Patreon Topic 59: On Vanaheim

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From Emi comes this topic:

“Do a discussion on Vanaheim.”

When we look to the usual sources, Vanaheimr is about as attested as Álfheimr is. It is explored in Vafþrúnismál, Chapter 23 of the Gylfanginning, and in the Heimskringla in the Ynglinga Saga. That’s it.

The folklore, unfortunately, tells us nothing. I have yet to find any folklore directly relevant to Vanaheimr. I also have found nothing on the denizens of Vanaheim Themselves, only the main Gods of Freyja, Freyr, Njorðr, and for those who count Her among the Vanir, Nerðus. If anyone has folklore related to Vanaheimr or the Vanir Themselves I would definitely be interested in seeing it.

As an aside, I find it rather interesting that the Nine Worlds often find themselves remarked as being, in some ways, laying in one direction or another in relation to Miðgarðr. Miðgarðr, of course, being the Middle Enclosure, is in the middle of this cosmological map. Niflheimr and Helheimr are in the North, Jötunheim in the East, Muspelheimr and Vanaheimr in the South, Álfheimr is South and perhaps above Miðgarðr, Svartalfheimr in the North and/or below, and finally, Asgarðr which is either above Miðgarðr or perhaps West. If you are setting up a stalli specifically for Beings of one of the Nine Worlds you may want to set that up in a place that corresponds to the World’s direction. There are also many beautiful artist renditions of Yggdrasil, including this one by Sam Flegal.

Sam Flegal’s Illustration of Yggdrasil

So, from here on out we are talking personal experiences.

I have only visited Vanaheimr a handful of times going on heimgang (World/Realm walking) or as it is often better known, journeying. My impression of the World is that of growing cycles. Some of the places I have gone within Vanaheim have been akin to old forests, plains stretching with animals like buffalo or aurochs and an even wider variety of animal and plant life I am sure I have only just scratched the surface on. There are places in Vanaheim that look like they have come right out of an early medieval book on the ideal farmstead, only….there is something more right about them. The wild places seem both more wild and yet also just…more. I get the sense in this World that things grow, die, and consume each other until they balance one another.

Something is just…good about the place. There is a sense of being lived-in and also that everything is going as it should, in the right season and pace. The landvaettir and various watervaettir felt extremely contented. If there are more industrial areas I have not visited them yet, and it would not surprise me if there are given Njorðr’s connection with the sea, commerce, and fishing. What I felt during my most recent visit, on invitation, was a sense of deep peace. While I am sure this World holds its dangers, I never felt under threat while I was there.

It is a World I do not have much experience with, and I will be visiting more in the future. I would be interested in readings others’ experiences with these Worlds!

Patron Topic 57: On Spirit World Politics Part 2

In Part 1 we went over some of the basic ways that politics interact and intersect with the spirit world. Now, I would like to explore the Spirit World and politics from my perpective as a spiritworker.

Political Implications of Spirit Travel

Humans are, in a very real sense, spiritual Beings. We have a Soul Matrix and a way that expresses and exists here. It is not unreasonable for us to understand that other vaettir also have a Soul Matrix, however close it does or does not match our own. This adds a very interesting spiritual-political dimension to travels we may make to other Worlds. The one that I am thinking of here namely being that we can have some form of what could be termed material impact on Them just as They may us here in Miðgarðr.

If we understand other vaettir as being able to have interaction and impact on us in our World then we, as visitors to other Worlds, can have impact on vaettir in other Worlds in no less wise a way. This makes spiritual tourism as a concept even more fraught with danger because we have the ability to harm and help in Worlds other than our own. Certainly, if we accept that various vaettir can cause help and harm in our own Worlds it follows we can have similar impact on Them in Their own Worlds even if it follows on different lines than we may expect. Anger the Álfar and you may receive elfshot. It occurs to me, especially having recently visited Álfheim, to wonder if there are similar stories about us humans who visit the Álfar there.

If we can have this impact then how we arrive to a given World matters. Since our souls can take flight, and depending on your understanding of the Soul Matrix, this can happen in sleep as well as with determined effort eg journeying, or hamfara (journeying forth in one’s hamr) it is not something limited to just spiritworkers. However, I think what marks the difference here is expertise. A competent heimrgangr, spiritworker or not, will journey with intent to where they wish to go. Most folks who wander around the Worlds in their sleep do not do it with any effort, it just happens.

My general advice to folks looking to do spirit travelling is to first have at least one or two competencies in divination systems down. This means being able to do these divination systems for yourself without worrying you are messing with the results of the reading. The divination itself can be simple, such as a special coin you flip or dice, three stones assigned as Yes/No/Indicator, tarot or an oracle card set, the Runes, or some sort of sortilege. I favor systems where randomization is built into the answer, rather than something relying utterly on your translation, such as with scrying in fire or a pendulum. While these can be useful tools, I find for my own work I need that random factor to reassure that I am getting good and accurate responses from the tools, and not get in the way of them. These divination methods serve as helpmeets in communication and interpretation. As examples, divination can help you see in clear terms if a request to enter a World has been accepted, help you understand a message that you cannot interpret at the time of a journey, or can be used to see if an offering idea would be good, and whether an offering was received well or not.

We need to be able to travel to and return in ways that do not harm ourselves or the places or people we wish to visit. We need to be able to communicate, or at the very least able to effectively and accurately interpret our interactions. We need to understand how we take in and interpret spiritual information, and be able to assess it. Why? If we understand that our impacts on other Worlds carries real benefits and harm not only to ourselves, but to the Beings of those Worlds and the Worlds Themselves, we have a responsibility to be competent in our traveling and in how we conduct ourselves. If we understand that there are political dimensions to these interactions then it should underpin the importance of being able to do these things well.

I generally advise anyone looking to do spiritual travel to be sure that, whatever your destination, to get the consent of the Beings of that World to enter. On the one hand, it is plain rude to show up unannounced when there are means to send a request to enter and get a clear response. On the other hand, it is disrespectful of the sovereignty of the various Beings if you gatecrash Their home. I am working with the Nine Worlds model in Nordic Heathenry. Most any World I can think of has at least one, if not many Gods, who call it home it in some way. Many of these Gods rule the Worlds we would visit. It’s hardly in my best interest to offend those Gods. Then there are the various vaettir who will likely be as displeased to find an invader in Their midst.

It is worth noting that our cultural and ethical frameworks may not be compatible with the Beings of the places we are seeking to interact with. A given Jötun in Jötunheim is probably not going to have my political outlook, and what is rude in a given context with Them is likely to differ from that of an Álfar in Álfheim. Likewise, that same Jötun may not share Angrbóða’s cultural or ethical frameworks. If we treat the Beings in other Worlds as Beings unto Themselves then we need to acknowledge that They will likely differ from us and each other in many ways. Then again, you may find that many of Them hold to some of the same views as we do. Ideally, you ask questions before you set out so you know as much as you can. Either way, if you are able to visit, ask questions.

A lot of these points may seem obvious, except I have seen folks stereotype all Jötnar as beastial or out of control, and Álfar as aloof and completely alien. To be sure, some Jötnar I have the pleasure of knowing are more beastial and some Álfar are aloof. I do find some Álfar completely alien. Some of those same Jötnar are also some of the wisest and most powerful Beings in the Nine Worlds. Those Álfar likely have damned good reasons for being aloof.

As relationships develop with Ginnreginn the varying bonds of politics we can experience between Them and the various Worlds can begin to pull and tug on one another. As an Odinsson I can feel this pretty keenly. There are some relationships that will be limited or simply never form due to being who I am to Óðinn and vice versa. Those might be open to others. Then again, I have had doors open that may not have otherwise, or not in the ways that they did, because of Óðinn and I’s relationship. This is part of why I advise Heathens, especially those wanting to get into spiritwork, do so with their Ancestors being among the first Ginnreginn that they develop relationships with. The Ancestors have a vested interest in you doing well and keeping safe. Most of your Ancestors are likely to remember being alive, and collectively have generations worth of experiences to tap. As many of your Ancestors may have pissed off a random Álfar, They may also have had good relationships with others. They can be a great source of contacts, influence, power, and wisdom. You are likely not the only spiritworker in your Ancestors, and tapping into these Ancestors can be especially potent in bringing your own spiritwork along.

We live here in Miðgarðr. We are visiting there. Even if the framework for what constitutes a good guest differs, it is still on us to put our best foot foward as a good guest

Magic in Other Worlds

When it come to magic in other worlds, all the ethical considerations I have covered in previous posts, namely Ethics in Animism and Polytheism Part 1 and Part 2, and On the Ethical Use of Magic can apply here. The long story here is that we are ultimately responsible for what our magic does in other Worlds whether or not it does what we intend.

An aspect of using magic in other Worlds few think about is that we can do it at all. Think about the many effects magic has the potential to enact in our world. Now, apply this thought to the Worlds of other Beings. When we read stories of elfshot for those who angered the Álfar, we can clearly see these Beings from another World can affect us in our own. Are there similar stories of humans in Álfheimr? To deny the possibility that we can have similar effects, among many, seems to place us lower than other kinds of vaettir. It makes the point that we are less magical, spiritual, or capable of committing harm or help. I find this notion false.

Rather, I think the opposite is true for folks who have any modicum of skill in hamfara, or magic in general. If we understand magic as the affecting of Urðr to achieve an end, then a given magician or spiritworker can present even more of a threat to themselves and others. If we understand a part of our Soul Matrix, eg the hamr, has the ability to get up and go walking about in other Worlds while our lyke (body) is asleep, then even if, say 10% of the estimated 7.8 billion person population of humanity did so, that would be about 780 million people. If only 10% of this estimate can effectively do spiritwork and/or magic then that still leaves 78 million people. That is not a small number.

When we apply this understanding to other Worlds, then, an intentional journey to another World is not a small thing even when the mechanism for the journey itself may be relatively simple. If magic can and does affect the patterns of Urðr, then its effective application can do active and ongoing harm or good, just as when other Being apply Their magic to us or our surroundings here in Miðgarðr. How does this aspect of the use of magic play into spiritual politics?

In a number of ways. For myself, the reputation the Álfar carried with Their use of magic and overall demeanor that I saw in the sources made it so I wanted as little contact with Them as possible. For a lot of folks, they carry this same idea with regard to the Jötnar. The very way we form relationships with vaettir, then, can be informed by how we, or our fellows, undertand and use magic.

The way we use magic can have an impact on how things come around politically. For instance, we have the varieties of seiðr. One of the things I understand that differentiates seiðr from other forms of magic is that seiðr works with vaettir to get things done. So, what vaettir are you working with to get the thing done? What are you having Them do? Are you asking Them at all, or have you enticed Them with a song and now you’ve roped Them into doing things for you? If you primarily work with landvaettir in your seiðr here in Miðgarðr, what do you do in other Worlds if you work seiðr there? How you interact and treat these vaettir can (and I would argue likely will) have direct impact on whether or not vaettir from other Worlds will want to treat with you.

There is a similarity between armchair occultists and 2nd Amendment fans here in the United States. Both are not very likely to have actually done their homework, and both talk a good game without actually engaging with the topic they will very loudly ‘debate me bro’ about. America’s total gun ownership rests around 37-40% if the Gallup polls are any accurate indication, though that number includes those who “own or live with someone who owns a gun”. Gun ownership, though, is one thing. Competency in their use is quite another. See also armchair occultists vs operant magicians.

When you first learn to shoot you do it with targets. Targets that are not shooting back, and that, so long as you are actually practicing safety with your weapon, you are not going to hurt yourself or anyone else. You learn discipline with the weapon and its use, how to take the thing apart, clean it, and how to put it all back together safely. Training for scenarios and the like come later once you have developed core competencies with the weapon. This bare minimum for weapons is similar for anyone who wants to use magic. Cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, warding, and being able to do divination and some basic forms of magic for safe spiritual journeying. You need to be able to competently and effectively use this tool at hand with a minimum of damage to yourself and others.

All of this is not to say “Don’t use magic!”. Rather, it is to really push folks to think through what magic they use and how they do it. It is a push for folks to think through how magic and its uses can affect the relationships they hold, and to weigh the political consequences of their actions. It is to consider that your actions have political dimension, especially when you are journeying to and/or are affecting other Worlds. Since magic is a form of power through affecting Urðr, and doing magic in others Worlds can have consequences deep consequences, it is another way through which we express ourselves, and our political allegiances. We cannot detach magic and its use from ourselves as though it is not real. After all, magic requires many parts of the Soul Matrix to be done. If you’re going to commit so much of yourself to doing somthing that can have such profound consequences, it seems to me it is worth doing well and with forethought.

Relationships Found and Formed

Here is where the metal meets the meat for animists and polytheists alike, whether or not we are spiritworkers. Relationships are at the core of both these theological worldviews. How I relate to the World around me has direct impact on how I act, function, and relate to every other thing. If I understand myself as being enmeshed in a web of relationships my outlook and actions are understood and expressed fundamentally differently than if I believe I am a cog in a machine. If I understand the Earth, Jörð as a Goddess, Who Herself is and contains vast, interrelated vaettir, that is a far cry different from understanding the Earth as a machine needing to be balanced. If we understand ourselves as existing in relationships, then ‘pantheons’ as locked-down relationships taking place only within a single culture are flawed models for understanding our place in things, and especially our Gods. Even a cursory look at ancient animisms and polytheisms shows that they interrelated with one another in myriad ways, and personal relationships with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir had the potential for immense variety even within a given culture.

Much of this post has been about relationships in the abstract, or in relation to how we use power. This is about the relationships we intentionally make or that are made with us. The Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir we make relationships with have impact on the relationships we hold, or can hold. Some relationships we hold, such as with our blood Ancestors, are a result of how Urðr shakes out as our órlög when we are born. The spiritual relationships we make as adults are, predominantly, choices -yes, including if a God comes along and takes you up.

We develop the means to meaning through relationships. For the most part we worship our Gods because we relate to Them in concrete ways. ‘God of’ as a primary model of understanding our Gods is flawed, as it is often used to box our Gods into standardized meaning and relationships. However, many of the Gods we have a cursory relationship with fall into this understanding. A person who holds no direct relationship with Þórr may only relate to Him as a God of lightning, thunder, and rains. Another person may hold a mentor/mentee relationship with Him. Even for those who have such a relationship may still hail Him as a God of storms when a storm comes their way. What matters here is the ‘God of’ model is not the only way we relate to the Gods. It is not the whole of Them. We also relate to our Gods through Their relationships with one another, eg someone who has a direct relationship with Óðinn may relate to Þórr as a God of storms and also as a Son of Óðinn, Jörð, and Frigg.

Relating to our Gods without the notion of a pantheon binding Them does not mean their myths are not relevant to understanding Them. They still exist in relationship with one another, whether that is as rivals, relatives, or some other way. Myths are a way to understand these relationships, and how we may relate to Them in kind. The binding idea as animists and polytheists in understanding myths and our Ginnreginn is relationality.

I wrote in Part 1 that “This is not to say we need to like, befriend, or worship every God to have good relationships with those in our hearths. You do not have to like or worship Óðinn to worship Frigg or Þórr. Respect, though, is important. We gain nothing by disrespecting the Ginnreginn, especially ones Who are close to those we worship.” By engaging in certain relationships we may leave others out of our lives. There is a closeness with Óðinn I have that I will not have with Fenris. My allegiances being what they are, I have forgone relationships with some Gods, such as An Mórrígan, because what They could ask of me is more than what I could give. Part of respecting the Gods is understanding where our own limits lie in Who we have time to give to. Part of respecting the Gods is knowing whether or not we would be out of our depth with Them in a working relationship, and to respect ourselves enough to not to try to take on more than is good for us.

On Spiritworkers

A spiritworker is what it says on the tin: someone who does work with and for the spirits. It may be someone who divines, does magic, heals, helps facilitate contact, does spiritual consultation, or does all these things and more. What it is, at the end of the day, is a job title. It says nothing of the individual view, expertise, or experience to be expected until and unless a given community develops those baselines.

Part of why I use the term is because it effectively captures the idea of what I am and do. It does this without appropriating the word shaman. I used to use the word to describe myself, and I no longer do. Shaman is a term that, on the one hand has become so divorced from its roots in modern Pagan, animist, and polytheist communities while being marketed so heavily on the other that it has largely lost its utility as a word. It is important to note, though, that spiritworker is being used not to imply that we are shamans, but because that word does not apply to us in the first place. There are layers of cultural meaning that has built up around that word, from its original people, from academia, New Age spirituality, and our own communities that do not convey what we do. What had been a useful word has been both stripped and overloaded with meaning. Even if that word, with all its baggage, was useful as a ‘handle’ word to carry meaning, it no longer does.

Spiritworkers may hold different roles in the communities they are part of. Some may be part of formal organizations, and others serving only a community of Ginnreginn that has called them to service. Some may serve in leadership roles, while others only serve in support capacities. Some hold formal community roles which may or may not include their job as spiritworkers. It may be worth our while as members of distinct communities to use spiritworker as a term alongside more specific ones, such as vaettirverkr, Runeworker, erilaz, seiðmaðr, and spámaðr which point to communities we serve, specialties, training, expertise, and the like.

On the Politics of Being Spiritworkers

This brings us right to the politics of being spiritworkers. We are not neutral actors, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous both to ourselves and Those we serve. Each of us are aligned with Someone, and generally that Someone, or group of Someones, are the Ginnreginn we are closest to, work with, and/or serve. It is worth remembering when getting a reading from a spiritworker you are not just getting information from them, you are also getting information filtered through them from their Ginnreginn.

When folks get a Rune reading from me that means at least 24 individual vaettir are potentially adding Their voices to the reading, whatever the question or issue. That is not including any of the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir on my end, or the querant’s for that matter, that would like to chime in on a given topic. It is part of why, when folks ask questions like “Should I do such and such a thing” or “Is this good for me?” I ask them Who they are asking. This is especially imporant with ‘should’ or direction-based questions. If you leave the question to the Runes you’re going to get an answer based on Them much more than if you asked, say, Freyja. The Runes will effectively communicate Her response, but if you do not ask Her, you get Their answer(s). Given I approach tarot as a single vaettr with a lot of pieces, it is a similar deal when I read the tarot.

This means that there really is not such a thing like impartiality to a spiritual consultation. Those I consult for have political interests, as much as their own Ginnreginn will in and for them, and the connections They have. Part of my job can be to tease those out if they come up in the reading, to figure out Who is present, and how They are affecting the answers I am receiving. Another is to have figured out as much as I can where my Ginnreginn stand on things so I can account for that in regards to the reading. Sometimes I will not be able to answer questions because I do not have certain initiations, or I do not know a given God, group of Ancestors, or vaettr well. I may be more or less suited for a given person in a reading, and may need to pass them off to someone else better qualified for their needs. The relationships we hold can bring a lot of wisdom to the work we do, and sometimes that wisdom is “I’m not right for this person”.

Spiritworkers as Extensions of Spiritual Politics

If we are aligned with various Ginnreginn and involved in spiritual politics then it also makes sense that the opposite is true: we are a way for how spiritual politics flows between and through different spaces, people, communities, and between and through different Ginnreginn. I have encountered in my time, primarily working for Óðinn as a spiritworker, and more recently as an Odinsson, that sometimes we are how different groups of Ginnreginn get to talking with each other. This is where things can get…interesting in talking with folks, because we are so thoroughly engaged at this point with personal experiences, understanding of relationships and how we interact with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It is a vulnerable place to be in, to talk from, as there are many intersecting points of personal experience. I am at pains to point out that while exploring this is necessary to understanding spiritworkers’ roles in modern Pagan, polytheist, and animist communities, it is also a place that has the potential to be rife with self-interest and delusion. Having a regular spiritual practice, spiritual accounting, discernment, and solid communities we can rely on to help keep us grounded, are needed.

To be sure, one does not need to be a spiritworker for the Ginnreginn to work with you as an extension of spiritual politics. It is something I find far more common with spiritworkers, though, since a lot of our work is networking, community building, communing, and other work that has us reach out between folks and various Ginnreginn. A really simple example of the kind of networking I am talking about came across my TikTok feed where Neomudang, a Korean shaman in America, was making offerings to various Greek Gods. Per her words “My Korean general Gods love partying with other Gods”. I asked if she would make an offering to Dionysos and Lykeios, and she did. So, in return for her offering to Dionysos and Lykeios, I will be making my own offerings to the Korean general Gods and my own, especially to Óðinn , Dionysos, and Lykeios once I get some new shot glasses and some good whisky.

Now, did the Gods need us to introduce Them? No. Not in a strict sense, eg the Gods had no other way of making connections to one another. We could be needed in other, less strict senses though. Sometimes we can make things easier. Sometimes the Gods would have no reason to interact otherwise. Sometimes we are the glue that holds Gods, who would otherwise not interact, in relationship with one another. Sometimes we can be the bridge that heals wounds. We serve as a bridge, a point of connection, one that may be more or less potent for whatever reason for the parties involved. Just as with our human communities, sometimes the Gods just need intermediaries to move things along smoothly.

We can make and sustain the bonds between the Ginnreginn, who may not otherwise have reason to interact, in bonds of relation and community. By being an ongoing intermediary we can encourage and build these ties. The bonds we carry with our own Ginnreginn may be enough for Them to build new ones between Themselves.

Spiritworkers are not themselves inherently better, able, or more worthy than others to make these networks or sustain these ties. This gets to the “Why?” of spiritworkers. Again, I am going to emphasize that spiritwork is a job. Our purpose is to have the expertise and time dedicated to the ongoing work of encouraging and sustaining good relationships between our communities, and the Ginnreginn. Our job is to help others effectively commune, communicate, build, and maintain good relations with the Ginnreginn. Sometimes we do this by divination, by starting a new cultus or sustaining them, initiations, or doing magic. Our job is to work for the Ginnreginn, and not everyone has the time, inclination, or expertise to do this.

I am an extension of Óðinn’s spiritual politics. He is the main God, Ancestor, and vaettr that I serve, and as an Odinsson I directly benefit from my relationship with Him. He also directly benefits from His relationship with and to me. There are folks who might not otherwise have connected with Him. Connections have formed between Him and other Gods through me that He might not otherwise have had. Many of my own relationships with the Ginnreginn I have in the way that they exist would not have formed without Him. Through Him I came to the Runevaettir, and all the Work we have done, and all the lives They have touched through me.

Something I think each spiritworkers comes, or at least should come to understand pretty quickly, is that even if we are serving the same Gods the politics of that service can vary significantly. Where I may serve an ambassador role, as I found with Álfheim, another Odinsson or another spiritworker may find their role quite different. We may take on different roles with with the very same Ginnreginn we serve in making ties with other Ginnreginn.

If it is so hard to say anything across the board, why say anything? Because these points and discussions need to be made. They are not part of mainstream polytheist discourse, not even among spiritworkers and yet, are part of the experience of both. We spend so much time on 101, 201, and, on occasion, 301 material exploring the basics of ideas in our various communities that discussions of these depths are hard to have in the first place. They are so dependent on our developed relationships with the Ginnreginn and the understanding we have, and the experiences that flow from them. I felt in order to effectively even start talking about the topic here required these two posts to get the basics of it down. I feel that I could keep on going, but this post is getting fairly long on its own, and a third part is probably needed.

I am interested in writing Part 3. As I have written before, this is a topic I have not seen covered much and I have enjoyed writing these two posts. Thank you, Maleck, for giving me the idea for these two posts.

I want to know what you, my readers, want me to explore in it. Do you want me to dig deeper into what I have already written in Parts 1 and 2? Do you want me to explore particular topics within spiritual politics? Let me know here, in the Around Grandfather Fire Discord, or by email.

Patron Topic 57: On Spirit World Politics Part 1

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“Would you mind discussing, as much as you can, your experience with politics in the spirit world, especially with how it can involve practitioners?”

I think that whether or not you understand there being politics in the spirit world is going to come down to your theological position on things. Within polytheism there is a breadth to understanding we can have regarding the way the cosmos was formed and functions. If you understand the Gods as being perfect, whole, unto Themselves and utterly benevolent, then politics as we understand them taking place within the various spirit Worlds may not make much sense. My own worldview is that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are many, and so, among a great many things, politics varies between and among Them all.

Defining Politics and Exploring the Spiritual Implications

Before we go on, though, what do I mean when I am writing on ‘politics’? The Oxford English Dictionary define politics as “The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” I also find 1.5’s definition useful: “The assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society.” These definitions work for our purposes.

We clearly have different political setups in the various home cultures these Gods were first worshipped by, eg chieftain-style in Nordic, and pharaonic with Kemetic. This can quickly get into “Is it the chicken or the egg?” type of questioning regarding a given political system. Since, as I understand it, the Gods are part of the undergirding of reality in profound ways, whether the political systems emerged from Them or not, all things are grounded in the Gods. I think it is entirely possible that some Gods favor certain political systems over the others, particularly when it comes to Gods who benefit from the establishment of Their order. It is also possible that a God may prefer no political system in particular.

Part of the reason I am not being too cut and dry here is because, while it is possible a given God may prefer a political system, They may have preferred a system They insituted but no longer exists, changed Their viewpoint over time, and/or Their view varies by political subject and Their worshipers at a given point in time. They may just be fine with taking us as we are now. It may also be a difference in interest even within a given God, eg Rúnatýr may not care as much as Óðinn about political organizations, hierarchy, etc, or only care insofar as these things matter with regard to understanding and working with the Runes. I also think it is entirely possible for one group of people to get one answer from a given God or an aspect of that God and for an entire separate group of people to get another answer and still be validly praying to, offering to, and communing with that God.

As if this is not complex enough on its own, add in the various vaettir, including our Ancestors and that of other vaettir such as landvaettir, Álfar, Dvergar, Jötnar, Aesir, Vanir, trolls, and so on. Every single vaettir, since They are a Being unto Themselves, may and likely does have varying political concerns from one another. I am also not assuming we are going to wander the Worlds and find that the Álfar have read and agreed with Kropotkin or the Dvergar with regard to Adam Smith or John Stuart Mills. Indeed, if I understand that each vaettr, that each spirit, is a Being Unto Themselves and the potential that I have as a being living and growing in Miðgarð is no less available to any other, then not only may each group of vaettir have Their own ideas of political theory, these may be more or less compatible with my own.

All of this is to say that anything I, or anyone else would have to say regarding our experiences of and with politics, political bodies, and views we have received from various Ginnreginn (Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir) in our communing with Them is our experience, and accordingly, the interpretation and understanding we have of it. I understand myself as an ecosocialist, that is, my politics’ first concern is right relationship with the environment, ecological care, and ecological justice. My framing and understanding of economics flowing from this: that the means of production should be owned and operated by the People rather than moneyed interests, and that for the People to have a good life the economy must comport with the limits of and be in right relationship with nature. Understanding my political perspectives allows me to compare and contrast between those of Others that I may experience in communing with the Ginnreginn, that is, the Gods, Ancestor, and vaettir. I also recognize that my political worldview may have everything or nothing to do with whether a given Ginnreginn wishes to develop a relationship with me. None of the Ginnreginn are monoliths.

Even to say that the Ginnreginn have politics is controversial. In part, it is because it is often seen as an invitation to Folkish and White Supremacists that they might be right. I want to put that to rest right now: this understanding that the Ginnreginn only can develop relationships with what we in modern times understand as white people unnecessarily limits the Ginnreginn’s ability to form and maintain relationships. It is an unncessary burden placed on Them by racist idealogues. Óðinn alone has crossed what we understand in modern terms to be lines of race, sex, gender, political, and ideological boundaries in His quests for knowledge, power, and wisdom. It is also ahistorical to ancient and medieval Scandinavians, who we take understanding and inspiration from, as going finnfarar or fara til finna to learn seiðr is remarked on in sagas. See The Viking Way by Neil Price, pg 225, for examples of this.

Basics of My Views on Spiritual Politics

So, all of this being said and out of the way, to Maleck’s topic request: “Would you mind discussing, as much as you can, your experience with politics in the spirit world, especially with how it can involve practitioners?”

Part of the core of polytheist and animist religions and thought are the formation and maintaining of relationships. While most Heathens are exoteric, Maleck specifically asks about practitioners, to which I take to mean spiritworkers of all kinds, magicians, and folks I will call heimrgangr, world-walker. In other words, these are folks who are engaged with esoteric practices.

I understand that the Ginnreginn have politics and are bound up in them not only in regard to relationships with us, They also are bound up with each Other in this way as well. I am fairly limited to what I can competently talk about here with regards to Gods and spirits outside of my particular Heathen worldview. In a way, limiting the conversation to Heathenry will help to highlight what politics can look like to folks when you develop and maintain relationships with a variety of Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

I carry a number of baseline assumptions with regards to how I understand the Heathen Ginnreginn. First, we shall regard the Gods. I generally approach the Aesir, Vanir, and various Jötnar as tribes rather than separate species. Many of these tribes have Gods within them that share attributes, such as þórr and Farbauti being Gods associated with and/or wielding lightning and thunder. How They relate to these things and how They relate to us through these things is also part of our relationships, including political dimensions. I understand that many Jötnar are part of or aligned with natural forces, and so, there are Jötnar connected to Earth, Air, Ice, Fire, Water, as well as those connected with natural places such as bodies of water and mountains, and then there are Jötnar connected with natural Beings such as trees, wolves and elk. Mixed in an among these various Jötnar there are those that are easiest to refer to as being ‘monstrous’.

Many of the members, including but not exclusively Gods from these tribe intermarry, such as Freyr and Gerðr, adding complexity to Their relationships with one another and with us. What I find beautiful is that this complexity adds depth and nuance not only to our understanding of our Gods as Beings unto Themselves, it also adds this to the various things our Gods represent, teach, and impart through Their stories. In appreciating our Gods’ complexities we can better appreciate our own, and the varieties of interconnectedness there.

Coming to understanding that our relationships with our Gods have political dimensions has powerful implications for where we are in relationships with all our Ginnreginn, and all the things that follow from that. A relatively simple example is Jörð. Jörð is a Jötun, the Earth Herself. She is the mother of Þórr. So, anyone who says carte blanche that they are enemies of the Jötnar is literally admitting to being an enemy of the Earth. Anyone ascribing to Þórr a universal hatred of Jötnar is attributing a hatred to Him of His own Mother. So, declaring ourselves or the Gods as carte blanch enemies of this or that tribe, or this or that group of vaettir ignores the complexity of relationships that the Ginnreginn inhabit. By making such a declaration it is entirely to end up an enemy to a good many of the Gods in Heathenry.

This is not to say we need to like, befriend, or worship every God to have good relationships with those in our hearths. You do not have to like or worship Óðinn to worship Frigg or Þórr. Respect, though, is important. We gain nothing by disrespecting the Ginnreginn, especially ones Who are close to those we worship.

As we gain relationships with different Gods our relationships with different tribes or families of the Gods may change as well. In my own case I did not worship Loki or any of His Family starting off as a Heathen. I came to worship Loki after knowing and worshipping Óðinn. From coming to know and worship Loki I came to know and then worship Angrbóða, Jörmangandr, Fenris, and Sigyn. I went from fearing Fenris and refusing to worship Him, to worshipping Him in a “here’s an offering now please leave me the fuck alone”, to “You eat my Father at Rágnarök. I don’t like You for that….but I can understand You.” It is far, far too easy to merely cast Fenris as an out-of-control monster and that is all He is. If I love and count Loki as among the Gods most dear to me, for all the shit He catches from Heathens, let alone His fellow Gods, I should at least be willing to give His Son respect and try to understand His Children.

Not everyone is going to give Fenris that, and I get that. I used to feel intensely antagonistic towards Fenrisúlfr. Over time, though, as I came to deepen my understanding and relationship with Loki I softened, not only because I’m also a Dad, but because I loved Loki. How could I so viciously despise His Son for fulfilling what amounted to a self-fulfilling prophecy that Óðinn helped to propagate by His own actions? I have been in a situation where the weight of expectation has hurt me and then the people around me. If I could see that in myself I can see that in Fenris’ myths too. I found, as I explored these feelings and how I related to Fenris, what I was reacting too was far less Him, and more the feelings He brings up, and my own ‘inner monster’. The personal sure is political.

Ancestors can be a bit more personal. I reckon Ancestors as anyone who is part of our ancestry whether that is by blood, adoption, Ginnreginn, and/or initiated lineage. So, They easily intersect between various Ginnreginn. In my own case I do not understand nor came to understand the last name Odinsson lightly. There is connection with Óðinn as Father there, and it ripples out into all the relationships I have. Some of my blood Ancestors are staunch Catholics, and will refuse to have anything to do with me because of this. Some of my initiated lineage Ancestors happen to be Wiccan because I was initiated into Georgian Tradition Wicca around 2007, 2008. No offense to Them, I just do not interact with Them much. They’re still there, though, and worthy of honor.

I take the use of the word “Brother”, “Sister”, “Sibling”, etc quite seriously. The use of that word implies a closeness, a host of obligations and responsibilities to one another. It means that I would lay down my life for you. It also means that we share Ancestors on acceptance of the term. So, I tend to cringe when folks at work or random Heathens I have never met call me “Brother”. When I call folks “Brother”, “Sister”, “Sibling”, etc that means your Ancestors are getting honored at my Ancestor stalli, and, if you have one, mine should be too.

So politically, Ancestors are interesting. They are flexible in some ways because we can take Them in from others, and get brought into Their circles by Them, other Ginnreginn, and other people. Then, They can also be fairly inflexible -our blood Ancestors are who They are whether or not we relate to these Ancestors. Many Ancestors, especially blood Ancestors, can be fraught with issues depending on the history we have. We may have Ancestral traumas that were dealt to our families that we are dealing with and may need to resolve, or those that our Ancestors inflicted on others. Suffice it to say, our Ancestors’ stories have political dimensions, ones it would help not to ignore.

Vaettir run the gamut of being part of the Aesir, Vanir, or Jötnar, to Álfar, Dvergar, fylgja (follower vaettir), landvaettir, vaettir of various elements, and every variety in between. They can be as big as a galaxy, and perhaps bigger, or as tiny as a grain of sand, and perhaps smaller. They can occupy any of the Nine Worlds. Us flesh-bound human beings are vaettir. We just happen to have physical bodies here in Miðgarðr. All of us, whatever World we are part of, have political dimensions we ought to consider as part of relating to and understanding one another. That would ideally start here, in our own World, and extend outward as we develop and maintain relationships as Heathens with the Ginnreginn.

This post, even as basic as it is, is already getting to the point of being fairly large on its own. I cannot hope to cover everything in exhaustive detail even if I made a series of posts like these though I am finding them fun to explore and develop. In the next post, On Spirit World Politics Part 2, I will explore some of these topics in more detail. Particularly, I am interested in exploring the way politics can shake out with esoteric folks, including the political implications of spirit travel, how magic in other worlds can operate, and how these things impact our relationships spiritually and politically.

Patreon Topic 56: On Álfheimr

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Emi comes this topic:

“On Álfheim.”

Before I dig into the topic I want to voice my deep appreciation to Emi for suggesting this topic. One of the challenges of writing for patrons through my Patreon is that sometimes they throw me curve balls like this to where, when you’ve been avoiding certain Beings (Álfar) and Their World (Álfheimr) and now that a patron has asked about Them you not only need to do more research, you need to recall your interactions and understanding of Them.

One of the biggest challenges and joys of the Patreon is writing for other folks on something as powerful and personal as religion and spirituality, particularly as a Heathen spiritworker. It pushes me to talk about things that I normally would not. It pushes me to talk about my experiences with certain vaettir like the Álfar, vaettir that I have not written much about here, and that I have not spoken about much on Around Grandfather Fire or 3 Pagans on Tap. This disclosure could have no effect, or, as I have found with other writings, it can change folks’ perspective, reinforce their understanding of their experience, or just be a helping piece for them. This is the power of sharing our experiences. Writing on our understandings and experiences like this can develop our sense of comradery and coherence. This is especially true for places like Àlfheimr and the Álfar, which have very little in the way of anything written about them in the sources most Nordic Heathens use.

Álfheim is often reckoned as one of the Nine Worlds mentioned in the Völuspá. It has a brief mention in Gríminsmál, and Gylfaginning. The mentions are brief, sparse on information. Where we have a great deal of information on the Álfar from a historical context are the compendiums of stories and writings of folklorists. The Álfar are remarked on by Claude Lacouteaux in several contexts throughout his various books, all of which are excellent.

Of his books that I have read, Lacouteaux’s most useful in our context are in Demons and Spirits of the Land, The Tradition of Household Spirits, The Return of the Dead, and his entry for Elves in Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore. To summarize the Álfar as any one thing seems a fool’s errand. Over time they go from being, in the earliest sources, similar in stature to the Aesir Gods. At some point the Álfar was conflated with landvaettir, the Dvergar, the húsvaettir, and in others with human Dead. Cat Heath explores this in her own work Elves, Witches, & Gods. She devotes a whole chapter to Freyr and clear ways of working with the Álfar in a Heathen context.

If little is known about the Álfar, even less is known from our sources about Their World, Álfheimr. Almost everything we have now is from modern Heathens and Pagans who have traveled to the land or spoken with those who call it home. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, because on the one hand we do not have preconceived notions of what Álfheimr must be from primary or secondary sources. On the other, we have no way of using primary or secondary sources as a guide for discernment of our experiences with this place.

Most of my experiences in Álfheim and with the Álfar are in context of other Work. An example of this World would be when I was assigned travel to the various Worlds by Óðinn to take in lessons from various Gods and vaettir. In part because I have been putting it off for awhile and in part pushed by this blog post, though more of the former than the latter, I was pushed to visit the World.

I found it…unsettling. Inviting and welcoming, to be sure. Yet, it feels like so much is either hidden or just beyond seeing. Almost like the whole time I was there this feeling of something in the place I was visiting being out of the corner of my eye. Not in a threatening way, yet it was there just the same. The way it looks to me is a combination of Rivendell and an Old Growth forest. Old trees taller than you can see sometimes stretching up. Many places, like in front of these old trees, exudes age and yet, there is youth to be felt too. The trees beside them, the road I was walking on, and many of the Álfar I met were this, some old and some young feeling, and some an interesting combination of the two. Some Álfar looked rather like Tolkien’s elves, and others more like those from one of Brian Froud’s Fairy Oracle deck. Some Álfar were not human-shaped at all, but trees Themselves.

An except from my journal:

“Álfheimr was a great Old Forest and there was a feeling of deepness to it, of ancient beyond ancient to it. Yet there was a stone paved road before us and we walked to what I recognize as one of if not the capital of it. Great sloped walls, some of wood and others turf, some of these like the Old Icelandic turf homes and others akin to Earthships.”

Since I have only scratched the surface of the place, and since we know so little about the World Itself from lore, I do not recommend folks visit ‘just to visit’. Granted, I do not think any of the Worlds are wise to visit ‘just to visit’ or without an invitation. If you do decide to engage with the Álfar, I would recommend folks take a good look at Elves, Witches, and Gods by Cat Heath. She dedicates a chapter to Freyr and the Álfar, and has a lot of techniques and workings that folks, especially if you are looking to make contact and do seiðr, would find useful. However you decide to move forward it is well worth taking care in reaching out to the Álfar, especially since most of the sources of folklore we have reference elfshot and the like as the result of angering Them. While over-worrying can be an impediment to good relationships with vaettir, approaching any vaettir level-headed with the desire to do well by Them and good offerings is a good tack to take and will serve you well.

Patron Topic 55: On Ego in Spiritual and Magical Work

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“Ego (as understood in common parlance, not Freud) in magical and spiritual work.”

I am glad that Maleck clarified not referencing Freud. Unfortunately, like a lot of psychological and spiritual terms that became popular and used in modern Western New Age influenced spiritual circles, it began as an academic term and has morphed a lot over time. The most common ways I have seen ego used generally falls into one of three ways. The two dictionary definitions, per Lexico which are relevant here, are: “A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and “(in metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject.” The third tends to be mostly negative, at least so far as New Age, and communities influenced by them are concerned: the ego is the selfish impulses and this-world concerns, the individual’s desires and Self. This latter tends to be used rather like a cudgel, whether against oneself or others, such as through admonishing others to ‘let go of your ego and embrace [concept]’ or ‘do not let your ego get in the way of your [progress, path, etc]’.

Of these definitions, I find the first most useful to our purposes in talking about ego in magical and spiritual work. It is direct, to the point, and without shaming or adoration of self-esteem or self-importance itself. The second definition, a conscious thinking object, especially when within the realm of animism and polytheism, is a category that is greatly expanded from where most metaphysical thinking is right now. It has incredible potential to widen and deepen the understanding and use of ego out of its mostly negative status in the overculture. However, of the definitions, it is the least used in our communities. The third is toxic in its use in modern magical, occult, Pagan, and polytheist communities. It is often used to denigrate healthy boundaries, a sense of self, or countless other means of protecting oneself or affirming one’s own needs and desires. It also has seen use in sublimating one’s desire or needs (physical, mental, and spiritual) to another person or group, or used as a way to spiritually bypass one’s own needs, boundaries, or issues needing addressing. Unfortunately, this third term tends to be the one used the most in discussions about ego.

The concept of the ego as something to be dissolved or brought under control in aescetic practice is not, in of itself, a New Age concept alone. New Age thinking and practice on this, which stemmed from New Thought, first took these most if not all of their concepts and original techniques from dharmic religions and then twisted them.  People, such as those involved in the Theosophical Society, brought terms and practices from dharmic religion into their groups, and over time, at least here in America, their conceptions of these things became the mainstream use of terms and techniques. I treat these concepts and techniques as separate because even where they are similar, it often proves to be a separate conception between what the younger practice thinks, interpreted, or twisted the older practice into being than what that older dharmic practice is.

Operating from the first definition, “A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”, ego is utterly important to magical and spiritual work.  While magic can have interplay with spiritual work, and often does in how I execute magic, I also recognize that at least some forms of magic interface, work with, or directly manipulate spiritual energies which have impact on spiritual beings rather than working with spirits directly. I defined magic in this post as “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.” The post also provides an in-depth look at my understanding of and relationship with magic. However the use of magic comes about, the operant needs to have enough sense of self-esteem and self-importance that not only can they conceive of themselves of being able to carry out change to Urðr, they  do so. Whatever the magic is, it has to cross from “I think I can” to “I am doing this” to “It is done.”

There are literally millions of ways to execute magic, from elaborate to simple, and everywhere in between. What all forms of magic have in common is, from the conception of its use, its execution, and its effects, is that we are using power to get things done. Magic is based in reality. While we may not fully understand, or may even misunderstand the mechanism(s) by which magic(s) works, we recognize that it proves its existence by experience, by cause and effect. Even on a baseline materialist angle, the use of magic allows for better outcomes. By lighting an enchanted candle to get a job, putting a good resume out there, and doing my best on interviews, by being inspired by the power I bring to bear on the situation, whatever the ultimate ontological reality is, I am giving myself a huge edge. I believe in myself enough to light that candle, to put out my resume, to interview, and to keep on doing things that increase the likelihood that I will get that job. I am going through all the effort because I believe I am worthy of that job. Moreover, I am doing active work to ensure that I get that job.

The magic does not work without a positive sense of self-esteem and self-importance. Why? Without that sense I do not conceive of magic being worth the time and energy to execute. So, it does not get done. Without that sense, I do not spend time thinking about and selecting the right candle, or carving it. So, the candle is unenchanted. Without that sense I do not bother to light the candle. So, the magic is never executed. Without that sense I do not search for a job, nor submit my application, nor interview for it. Nothing happens without the forward momentum provided by my sense of self-esteem and self-importance. This also applies if we are looking at things from a more collectivistic stance. A sense of self-esteem and self-importance can be based in one’s community, whether the role one plays in it, or just the fact that one exists in a community. So, rather than a personal feeling of pride and “I deserve this job!” providing momentum to a magical working, I could be working from a feeling of “To be a good member of this community I will contribute through my labor!” or “I want to help, and this is what I can do!” However the motivation and sense of self-esteem and self-importance comes about, it needs to be there for the magic to have grounding in our lives if we are going to conceive of it, execute it, and experience the results of it.

Most of what I have written here applies to spiritual relationships as well. If I do not believe myself as being worthy of a relationship I am unlikely to seek it out or be receptive to them. If I only believe I am worthy of certain relationships then, whatever may be available to me, I will only seek out certain kinds of relationships. However, since the other party is a Being unto Themselves, They may have more than enough confidence in a relationship with me to reach across my own lacking self-confidence or self-assurance and buoy my ego. Sometimes by reaching out, a given God, Ancestor, or spirit can provide the boost to one’s self-esteem or self-importance that we can then be receptive to Them. Other times, it may be that the person derives a feel of positive self-esteem and/or self-importance in a similar way to belonging to a human community, as being part of a spiritual family, clan, and/or community.

The reverse of these things is also true. By having an overinflated sense of self-esteem I could be engaging in fooling myself that my magic is more effective than what it is. I may ignore common sense, such as putting in my resume, cutting off my magic’s ability to do the thing I was executing it for in the first place. By having an overinflated sense of self-esteem and self-importance, I could actively push away spiritual  relationships. I could be overconfident in an approach to Ginnreginn and cause offense, or overestimate my ability to handle a given relationship and overload myself. In executing magic or being in a relationship I could overcommit or not commit enough.

Where I think a lot of the issues with ego is headed off is balance, a proportional sense of self-esteem and self-importance. Originally, I was going to write the word healthy, but that term is so loaded and at the same time not descriptive of what I would look for. This is going to be harder for some folks and easier for others, for a load of reasons. However, I think that balance is necessary in ego for effective magic and healthy relationships. That proportionality is weighed, formed in community with others. That balance can also shift over time, in rhythm with relationships one holds, the magic one works, the experience one gains, and the effects all these things have on and with each other.

When I became a Heathen it was commonplace to see or hear the words “We do not kneel before our Gods!” loudly and proudly declared. I felt then, as I still do, that most of this is a reaction against Christianity rather than a reaction for our Gods. To my mind, this is often an active impediment in Heathen thought to getting to know our Gods, and also our Ancestors and vaettir in some fairly powerful ways. Kneeling, genuflecting, and prostration all can be powerful ways of recognizing another’s power, and aligning our ego with our place in things. Some folks are so hurt by their previous experience with these postures (or their knees/back/etc just hurt doing it) that just doing them brings pain, lowering their sense of self-esteem and self-importance that it becomes a block in the relationship. It may be counter-productive for a person to kneel or prostrate themselves. A bow, an inclination of the head, shutting of eyes, hands on the heart, or similar ways of showing respect may be easier and better in their relationship with the God. I think part of the beauty of Heathenry is that it allows for these approaches in proportion with our relationship with each God, Ancestors, and vaettr. Abasement and denial of our own self-esteem and self-importance is not necessary as part of holding relationships with the Ginnreginn.

Working with magic is working with power. Working with spiritual Beings is work with Powers. Power, whether hard or soft, gentle or firm, great or small, gets things done. “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end” means that we take a hand in working within the Worlds and with the Ginnreginn. Our ego is a potentially powerful ally, one I think we would do well to keep by our side rather than try to be rid of. Treating it like a good ally, by giving good and proportional support to our ego, it in turn can provide support in hard times and be part of why we succeed in a given endeavor. Bringing our ego into magic and spiritual work in a proportial way that honors where we are, how we are, and what our needs and boundaries are, brings more of our whole Self to bear in the magical and spiritual work before us.

Patreon Topic 51: On The Ethical Use of Magic

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck comes this topic:

“The ethical use of magic.”

The problem with saying “the” at all, especially in the use of such a thing as versatile and nebulous as magic, is that almost any ethical system can be used to justify the use, or the lack of use, of magic. Is your personal philosophy utilitarian? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to “Will the use of magic do the most good or do the least amount of harm to myself and others?” Likewise, “Should I use magic?” can also be answered by “Will the lack of my use of magic do the most good or the least amount of harm to myself and others?”

Is your personal philosophy based on the common good? Then some of the questions to ask may be “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause undue harm to others/society?” and “Whether or not my intention is good, will the use of magic cause the effect that I am seeking and help others/society?”

Is  your personal philosophy virtue ethics? Then the question of “Should I use magic?” comes down to whether or not it is in line with the particular virtues of your virtue ethics to do so.

There is no singular answer to whether the use of magic is ethical, good, or not, because there is no singular ethic that governs magic as a whole. Being a polytheist, I believe that different Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can and do subscribe to different ethical approaches. Likewise, different polytheist religions, and then adherents within them, can have different ethics systems, and different systems of understanding and deciding what an ethical use of magic is. Rather than give an exhaustive overview of different ethic systems and their approach to magic, I would rather look at what magic is and does, and from there talk about my own approach.

This took me the better part of a month to write, and I want to say how much I appreciate my úlfkyn, Maleck, here. You are a right bastard and a child-of-a-bitch.

What is Magic?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as:

1 The power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

“Magic: Definition by Lexcico.” Magic: Definition of MAGIC by Oxford, Oxford, 2021, www.lexico.com/definition/magic

The short version of Aleister Crowley’s definition is:

Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

Crowley, A. (2017, January 22). Chapter I: What is Magick? Magick Without Tears – The Libri of Aleister Crowley – Hermetic Library. https://hermetic.com/crowley/magick-without-tears/mwt_01.

My own could best be summarized as “Changing the weaving or carving of Urðr to an end.” Even simpler “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.” works. Whether through the application of sympathetic magic, eg the smashing or cutting of a fascimile of a deer with an arrow in order to succesfully hunt the deer, the use of seiðr to bring vaettir to me so we can work on a project, or through galdr with Runes to protect a person, place, or thing, magic seeks to change how things were, are, or will be. I understand magic as natural, accessible to a wide variety of Beings besides ourselves.

Routes to Magic

Magic itself, as I understand it, is not the singular province of any one class, group, culture, tradition, political party, religion, etc. There may be forms of magic, routes to it, that are closed to outsiders, and those boundaries should be respected for many reasons. There may be understandings of magic that do not transend the bounds of a given culture, eg my own definition of magic is specific to Heathenry and may not translate well to others even though it is not closed. Even within open routes of magic there still may be particular routes inside that are closed to folks unless you are brought into or initiate into a mystery, tradition, or teachings with a group of people, culture, or certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

The closed routes to magic are often closed for the safety and security of the route itself, and the safety and security of practitioners. This is true both in terms of these closed routes often being in traditions and cultures that were marginalized, persecuted, and/or the victims of genocide, and in terms of the effects the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or the effects of the magic itself can have on the practitioner.

Routes to magic are often linked to specific religions and worldviews. Heathen conceptions of what magic is, looks like, how it is done, and the effects that are expected from certain forms of magic conform to what we read about, experience, and practice within our communities. Seiðr, spá, and Runework are all contained within a Heathen worldview and only make coherent sense within it.

Even forms of magic that are said to be ‘without tradition’ often conform to a worldview, eg Chaos Magic itself as it has come about could be said to be only possible within a post-modernist worldview, as most any other form of magic previous has been linked to a cultural worldview. Unmoored as it is from a single worldview as such, and relying more on the questions around “What does this do? Does it work? Can I replicate this result?”, Chaos Magic is one of the most accessible and easily misunderstood ways of working with magic and in/between/across magical systems.

Magic is Power

Let us be clear: when we ask questions around the use of magic we are asking questions around the use of power. Magic is power. The power to get things done. The power to use, and then, enforce your Will. When we take this understanding and apply it to cultures and traditions to whom a person does not belong, has no standing to partake in, and is an outsider, what a person who is insisting on access or using these closed routes ultimately wants to do is steal power from other cultures, traditions, people, and their Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. There are plenty of accessible routes to power by other means, and where you have a far less likelihood of pissing off entire groups of Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities by trying to take from what you have no right to. This is not even an ethical argument on my part, but a practical one -if what you want is access to power with lower risk to yourself there are plenty of routes in order to study, practice, and effectively use magic that involve far less risk.

Magic is power, and one of the most readily accessible forms in the modern day are sigils and iconography. This is most readily apparent within the advertising industry. Disney, Nike, and McDonald’s feature such powerful figures here that not only are their symbols ubiquitious, they are immediately understood across cultures and can trigger responses in their targets on sight. Especially so since Disney has effectively swallowed entire sections of culture, namely fairy tales and mythologies, as part of its animated features. Jingles and similar pieces of music serve this function as well on an auditory level. This is why I say access to magic is open to any class. Doing magic, gaining and retaining power through it, is accessible to anyone, and few things are quite as powerful as maintaining a stranglehold on the imagination.

Mere sigils and icons are not enough, though. Anyone can design a sigil, draw an icon, or make a logo. Part of what makes these corporate giants so powerful is that they tap into, interact with, and use as fuel the minds that they touch, whether through the imagination or impulses. People will stay up late into the night waiting for the next Disney/Marvel episode to drop, or stay up and shuck out hundreds of dollars on a rare line of shoes from Nike. It is magic that works out handsomely for the companies that know how to work well with it.

Contrasting Religious and Spiritually-Based Magic with Corporate Magic

We have folks of all kinds practicing magic handed down to them, being initiated into traditions and cultures’ magical traditions, or magic being rediscovered, revived, or made new from personal experiences and/or experimentation. Are they somehow less powerful than the magic of Disney? In a sense, yes. However, this is rather like comparing apples to oranges unless you zero in on exactly what it is that Disney’s magic, or any other company, is aiming for.

Disney has a cultural cache and wields power in our society that religious-based magic, for instance, modern Rune magic, does not. However, Disney is not trying to do what Rune magic does, and, generally speaking, Rune magic is not trying to do what Disney does. What Disney does very well is to make good on entertainment and real estate investments, all of which is empowered by the Disney logo, and the collective weight of ‘Disney magic’ they have harvested very carefully over the years through multiple generations. They do this in order to make money, exercise power, and shape law and the markets they are involved with through these means. It is little wonder that Steam Boat Willy’s Mickey Mouse still has not entered public domain with the amount of power they wield.

Religion and spirituality-based magic have different roots they are growing and operating from. Rune magic itself in the Heathen worldview is working with the forces of the cosmos to achieve results through a variety of ways. Some folks are working with the Runes to talk with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through divination. Some folks are working with the Runes for their own ends, such as healing, protection, or personal empowerment. These methods are effective for these things in part because the effects the particular operant is aiming for involve a lot fewer spheres of influence they need to control for, and Runeworkers are people whereas Disney as a whole is a gigantic corporation. Disney has a hell of a lot of ability to flex power because of this, and yet, because of it structure and how it operates within society, in some ways it has a limited scope within which it can compared to the average operant. Granted, an operant has to take care of their daily needs and find time between working, eating, and sleeping to devote time to honing their skills and then doing magic. However, an operant’s magic can be quite detailed and beautiful. Whether intricate, or simple, an operant’s magic it can be effectivein addressing a range of needs and wants, human and otherwise.

Disney and other corporations’ magic, by contrast, is fairly crude, easy to replicate, and is maintained by staff across tens of divisions involving tens of thousands of people. Corporate magic is employed to build up the bottom line at the cost of all else. Unlike most magic, corporate magic’s aim is incredibly shallow. A story by Disney might bring up a lot of feelings, and it may even cause you to question yourself or bring new light to your life. Frozen 2 was a good story, and one that happens to align with many of my values. In the end Disney is selling a product whether it is to you or investors. The magic is used to get you to buy the Disney+ subscription, or the ticket to Disneyland and increase their share price, not to bring you that experience. I say this as someone who has Disney+, enjoys a lot of their movies and associated products. However, I am very clear and understanding that while I do enjoy the stories, movies, etc they produce, each of these is, in the end, a product. The experience is incidental. If they could sell you a product without that experience that costs millions to produce and still make the same amount of money they would do it. Disney and its magic does not exist to make you feel, do, or experience anything -it is a route to making money, and in order to do so they have to provide at least adequate if not good experiences for the fields they are in.

This is among many areas where Heathen magic is very different from corporate magic. Heathen magic is rooted in the understanding that we are all, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, together in Urðr, and that we are co-creating the weaving/carving of that creation as it was/is/will be woven/carved. Engaging in the use of magic, then, is taking an active hand in the weaving/carving whether by our own hand alone or in concert with others’.

In Heathenry magical power, and its gathering, its maintenance, and its use, is seen through a variety of lenses. For certain forms of magic, such as Runework or gandir, gathering power is gaining a number of good, working relationships with vaettir. It is maintained by keeping these relationships well. It can be used to gather information, to harm another, to defend oneself, or most anything else the vaettir will align with the operant on. For others, such as hamfara, gathering power is getting to know and work with your hamr until you can be confident to get to and from where you want to go. Maintaining it can be dedicated time each day to engaging with your hamr. You can use it for the same things as in the example with gandir, and in some cases it may be more effective for you since you are traveling in spirit form to do it. Still, other forms of magic can see gathering power as bringing together different herbs, stones, furs/skins, and a needle together to make a pouch for protection. Maintaining the magical power may be to occasionally changing out, replacing, or adding herbs, stones, or animal pieces.

Commonalities in Heathen Worldviews on Magic

An ethical core to Heathenry would imply there is an ethical framework that fits all of Heathenry. While individual Heathens and even groups may have their own preference, there is no single one that fits. What is common to all Heathens is a worship of and respect for many Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. This animist and polytheist worldview underpins everything within Heathenry, from our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, to how we treat each other, to how we live. Accordingly, this affects how we use our magic as well.

Some Heathens leave magic entirely alone, some do a little bit here or there, some leave entire branches of magic to experts, some study it as a curiosity, and others use or work with it. What is common to all of us is a respect for it as a practice, a way of interacting with, working with, impacting, and manipulating Urðr/Wyrd.

What are commonalities in how Heathens employ magic?

We use magic for many of the same reasons humans have used magic for time out of mind. We use magic to protect ourselves, whether from harmful spirits, other humans, disaster, or sickness. We use magic to give ourselves a leg up on our competition, whether enhancing our abilities or reducing/harming another’s. We use magic to help ourselves, our neighbors, our communities to keep healthy and to heal in physical, mental, and spiritual ways. We use magic to find, take, maintain, build, and use power in a variety of forms. We use magic to build, destroy, transfer, or use luck. We use magic to find, discover, uncover, reveal, or be shown information.

Because so many of us are reconstructing, recovering, rediscovering, experiencing, and developing ways of interacting with and using magic, there are going to be far more differences on how we experience, understanding, and use it than we will have commonalities between us. It is hard to have common practice when the religious movement got started in America back in the late 60s.

Almost every Heathen I know that works with or uses magic is doing so alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, so even if we find common threads between us a lot of the particular are likely to look different. An example: Cat Heath’s excellent Elves, Witches, and Gods, and my own understanding and experience of seiðr are close enough that everything she writes about translates well to my own experiences. Morgan Daimler called the book essential, and I agree. There are few sources for learning it as well written or well-sourced like this. and were I to have to learn seiðr all over again her book would be among those I would first want to reference and work through. However, I do not connect well at all with fiber arts and cannot spin well, so a good chunk of her book does not ‘click’ with me. My experience of Freyja teaching me seiðr in the ways I experienced are not inherently better or more valid than Heath’s. What and how Freyja taught me just ‘clicked’ better for me, my needs, and where I was when She taught me In the years since I was first taught the work those teachings have continued to serve well.

Developing Heathen Ethical Frameworks of Magic

Rather than presenting ‘the’ Heathen ethical framework of magic I think it is far more interesting to ask questions about what ethical frameworks may look like and push folks to develop their own. I know what my ethical framework looks like, and I have given some insights into it here. What I cannot tell you is what your own looks like. Perhaps you are an Anglo-Saxon Heathen and the kinds of magic you work with are different, or the entities that you can trust to partner in that work are wholly different. Perhaps you are also a primarily Norse/Icelandic Heathen in your culture background and take different cues than I do from the sacred stories we have. Perhaps your experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits have given you different insights than my own.

I would far rather ask questions and maybe be a whetstone to sharpen your own ethical senses on, even if you vehemently disagree with me. A simple question: is cursing ethical?

What does it do? How well does it do it? Are there more effective means of achieving the result? Are there less effective means of achieving the result? This line of questioning may give rise to the idea that I am a consequentialist, and when it comes down to it that is accurate. I care less about the virtues involved with the use of magic than I do about whether or not it works to the end I employ it. Perhaps your own view of the role and use of magic is different. I do not consider this to be inherently better or worse than my own, it is just a different perspective. So, how do we develop these?

Taking Ethical Cues from Cosmology and Myth

What does a given Heathen cosmology and its myths have to say about magic and the use of magic? Is magic wild, dangerous, and/or unpredictable? Is it only the province of wild Gods, dangerous spirits, and/or can anyone learn it?

What do the stories have to say about how magic functions? Is there a cause and effect to it? Is magic a living Being unto Itself, or is it part of everything? Is it both, or neither? What does this imply about the use of magic and the forms it takes? What does it mean to take up and to use magic in these stories?

Are there examples of humans employing magic, and if so, how are these framed? Who is doing the framing, eg is this a Christian perspective? What can we derive from the sources that are definitely informed by Christian bias?

Do concepts around magic have intersection with certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits? If so, what does it say that these Beings teach, initiate folks into, and/or govern the forms that magic can take? Are there ethical frameworks built into magic as it exists within the cosmology and myths?

Taking Ethical Cues from Direct Interaction with Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits

What does magic mean to your relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? How does this impact your view of what magic does, how it interacts with the Worlds? Do the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits share the same ethical guides or do They each have Their own?

Does it change your relationship with the Ginnreginn when you hit a certain level of proficiency in magic or with a certain kind? What about your relationships with others in your community through that relationship and its growth/change in learning and experiencing magic?

Do certain Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits impart some of their viewpoint when teaching magic, and if so, in order to learn a kind of it, will you have to align your ethics or can you still learn it and keep your view on things? Are you willing to set aside your ethical framework to learn, to take on, and to use magic? If you are unwilling, what forms of magic might you bar yourself from learning or using? What changes are you willing to take on in order to learn, experience, or develop your work with magic? What are your priorities and how might they change?

Taking Ethical Cues from Heathen Virtues

What is a virtue? What are Heathen virtues? Are they altogether different from other polytheist virtues? Are they altogether different from non-religious virtue ethics systems? What is most important to a Heathen? Does magic comport with the virtues as you have explored them? Is magic itself or its use virtuous?

Is there flexibility within Heathen virtues, or are these to be solid, unmoving positions from which one’s life is lived? Must there be strict means of using magic or its use becomes without virtue? Is there flexibility in using magic that retains the integrity of virtue?

Are certain forms of magic more or less virtuous? If so, what makes them so? If not, why? Is it ethical to use magic, broadly speaking? If it is, are there occasions where using magic may be out of alignment with Heathen virtues? Would it be unethical from a virtuous perspective to not use magic in the furtherance of a virtue? What would the ideal virtuous operant look like in Heathenry? Would would its opposite be?

Comparing and Contrasting

I could go on at length asking questions of different ethical frameworks and how they may or may not apply to Heathenry for some time and still only get so far. So, I am going to explore my own approach to magic. While I definitely have my own perspective on things, rather than swing you to my point of view, my hope is that exploring my approach to magic may provide you more material to think on how you approach it yourself. We can learn a lot from what does/does not click for us.

My Approach to Magic

I have spent a lot of time building up the background of the conversation to be able to get to the point where I talk about how I work with and understand magic. To refresh my point on what magic is: “Weaving or carving Urðr to an end.”

If that is the whole of magic, then is everything just a matter of technique? Hardly. Anyone can learn to read the Runes; not everyone is going to have a good relationship with Them. Likewise anyone can learn the theory of how to do seiðr, and not everyone is going to be good at gandr or kveldriða. Magic has a lot of factors into whether or not a particular working will go well. The relationships you carry, the health and power at work in your soul matrix, the megin and hamingja you are able to bring to a working, and the vili you can bring to bear to see the working done all play factors. Magic requires practice to get good at and to keep being good at. If you want to specialize in an area that will take time, effort, and work. Even for folks who take to an area of specialty quickly, I find that no matter what natural knack you might have it does not replace consistency of work.

How I Work With Magic

I use more than a few forms of magic. Some of the magic I do is ongoing work, whereas some forms are as-needed. I have a lot of taufr (physical charms) that I have built, both on my own and with help from others. Some taufr I have received as gifts. Some taufr protect, some connect me with certain Beings, some keep certain Beings away, and other taufr enhance what I already have. When it comes to taufr if I feel I need a boost on something or I need a bit more protection, I make one or ask a friend to.

My approach to taufr is a lot of how I approach magic in general. “What does it do? How well does it do it?” are two phrases that I always ask with regards to the approach and use of magic. I use what I need when I need it, and if I foresee a need, then I learn how to do it, or ask someone to work with me on it. That someone could be a God, Ancestor, vaettir, and/or a peer.

If what I need is immediate relief of an issue, say a vaettr has decided it wants to pester me, I will not wait to make a taufr. To start I may talk with the vaettr, unless the pestering is a direct threat to myself or others. In that case I will work with the taufr I already have, employ seiðr, employ galdr, or whatever is necessary, and work with my vörðr to make it stop. If what I am doing magic for is a long-term goal, say getting the resources so a project gets off the ground and succeeds, I do all the physical, mental, and spiritual work necessary so it can, and then look at where best to apply my magic. If you want a good example of what this can look like, look at my 30 Days of Magic Challenge series of posts where I made and worked with the Fehu bindrune.

An Example: Making a Taufr for Protection

What is the taufr for? If it is for protection, I think about what looks and feel protective. I might work with a wood known for its use in the creation of sword hilts, spear shafts, or shields. I may carve or woodburn a sword, spear, shield, and/or protection Runes into the wood. A perfectly good taufr for protection all on its own would be a Mjölnir.

I start with the premise of the magic I am doing, and then build up correspondences. Why use a wood known for its use in weapons? Because if I want to communicate protection, both to myself and others, I do not want to use a punky wood which is brittle and easy to break. The taufr being made of brittle, easy-to-break material would communicate the same thing physically and spiritually to myself and others. If I cannot even look at the wood for the taufr and think “this is strong” or “this is powerful” then there is little point to it. This will make carving it harder if I go that route, but having worked with oak, while it is harder to work it than say basswood, it is very satisfying when it is done.

Would I use a wood such as birch instead of oak or ash for protection? It can work. I tend to associate birch with long term healing rather than straightforward protection like I do the two other woods. However, birch is a hardwood that was used in knife handles and stools.

Now that I know what I am making the taufr for, what wood I want to use and what symbols I will carve into it, we can get to the making of the taufr. How do I ethically make a taufr?

As best as I can I try to source my woodcraft materials from vaettir who have given me permission to work with them. I first try to work with deadfall, and barring that, from living sources of wood I have good connections with. Last would be wood I have no connection with and/or buy. It is not that this wood is ‘less’ in terms of usefulness to the working, but that a piece of wood I buy to make into a taufr was never able to negotiate with me on offerings, the amount of wood that would be taken to make it, or anything else. The personhood and the willingness of the vaettir was never taken into account when it was harvested. Since I am operating out of a polytheist and animist mindset this considering of the vaettir’s wishes is important. They are Beings unto Themselves, and need to be considered such.

Let us say that a given oak tree has denied me the use of their deadfall or living body for this work, but a birch tree has given me permission to use theirs. In this case the ethical choice is to work only with the birch tree’s deadfall that I have permission to work with, make offerings to the birch, and to leave the oak tree, both their deadfall and their living body, entirely alone. If I cannot find a hardwood in my area willing to work with me, or if my circumstances are that working with already-cut and shaped wood is a better option, I will take time out to talk with them when I go to buy them and make offerings for the vaettir.

Another ethical question is one of proportion. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr one that responds to aggression with proportional? Given I firmly believe in the right to defend myself from a threat to myself or others, my ethical stance is that whatever aggression is sent my way I am within my bounds to respond to it proportionally. It would be unethical to make a taufr that sought to kill someone who, metaphorically or literally, stepped on my toes.

Another ethical question I need to answer is one of accuracy. Is the protection magic I put into the taufr going to be an accurate response to aggression/attack? This is less of a concern to me if the magic in the taufr is the equivalent of a shield or generalized protection because the magic is just meant to defend. If you are hitting this piece of protection then you are trying to hurt me and will be stopped. If the magic put into the taufr is a piece of aggressive protection, say I use a spear, a sword, and a shield for the carving and call on on Tiewaz the Rune twice, this taufr needs to be accurate when it responds to a threat. Perhaps I enchant it so the ‘attack’ portion of the taufr activates when I am under active attack, only attacks what is actively attacking me, and ‘sheathes’ when that is no longer the case. When it comes to enchantments this is a far better option than, say, carving a bunch of swords into it and turning the taufr into the spiritual equivalent of a sword tornado at any perceived threat.

The thing to keep in mind when making a taufr, or working with any magic, is that it should not be the only line of defense, attack, mitigation of energies or spirits, or the only thing watching your back. If I walk into a burning building my vörðr is not going to stop me from doing it, though they might give me warnings or directly ask me not to. I have and keep good relationships with many Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and members of my communities who have a vested interest in me being whole, alive, and able to do the work I have. I do not impugn on those relationships by recklessly or needlessly putting myself in danger, and I do not ignore those relationships when it comes to asking for help to keep myself and others safe. You do not have to just make one taufr or do one kind of magic and that is it. There is nothing stopping folks from enchanting a bunch of taufr to take care of a variety of situations. If your creativity, intuition, and drive lead you to do this, that is fine. There is a lot you can do with that, and there many forms of magic you can apply to work on the same problem.

Magic is not a substitute for good planning, awareness, or doing necessary spiritwork. Especially with regards to Heathen magic you will need them. If you are just beginning your journey into working with magic you should have a good working relationships with at least a God or two, your Ancestors, and at least your landvaettir. Get to know your vörðr if you can. Magic takes work to get results, to get right, to be accurate, and to be proportional to what you want it to do. Sometimes, despite all the careful planning and work, it fails, and being able to troubleshoot why is a skill in and of itself.

Considering Kinds of Magic

Is there an ethical consideration to be had when looking at the kinds of magic I employ? Absolutely. Taufr are physical objects. The thing about making or receiving taufr is that, when I die, whatever of them are left are going to need to be buried/burnt with me, rehomed, or destroyed. Consider the protection taufr above. I have a spear, a sword, a shield, and two Tiewaz Runes carved into it. Is the poor bastard who has to take care of this protection taufr going to have to fight whatever vaettir I have contracted with to be in it or to put Their energies into it as well as whatever work went into the magic I have put into it? Will they have to placate the vaettir, say with offerings or sacrifice? What kind of work am I leaving behind for others to do?

Other kinds of remains can result from the use of magic. If I use sympathetic magic to increase my luck when I hunt deer, eg taking an arrow and destroying a clay representation of a deer, what is my ethical obligation to the deer vaettir? How about the clay that the deer is represented through? Since I have built a link with these objects I need to treat both the ceramic shards, the deer, and the arrow itself, with respect. To be respectful I could bury the shards, or put them in a place of honor, depending on what the deer vaettir want.

Let us set taufr and sympathetic magic aside for a while and look into some of the varieties of seiðr. A good reason for why seiðr was often translated as ‘witchcraft’, was both respected and feared, and still should be today, is because a good chunk of seiðr is straight-up nasty to those who are its targets. Consider the stafsprota, a staff used by a spákona which, according to Price, were used for striking an enemy on the face, used to rob an enemy of their memory and instill minor confusion, and may have been used in divination. A munnriða, a mouth-rider, is a seiðworker whose affected the mouth and its contents. A trollriða, a rider of witchcraft or a troll-rider, could be a seiðworker who performed witchcraft and/or could be working with trolls, or a large variety of rougher vaettir. Consider that the -riða suffix was a form seiðr could take and that it could have sexual connotations. This brings munnriða or trollriða into a whole different light in terms of what the magic is supposed to do to its target or how it gets done.

Seiðr was renowned for being used to affect the mind, will, strength, and power. All of these examples do just that. Are the use of these unethical on their face? No. Not to me.

What I think can make the use of a kind of magic unethical is if its use causes harm for its own sake or if if its use is not proportional to a potential or actual threat or harm. While seiðr, whether in the actual performance of the magic or its affect, may not be conventionally acceptable, it is nonetheless powerful and useful. If a person is spreading harmful gossip or libel then to my mind engaging in munnriða against them can be an ethical use of that form of magic. If a person has threatened or sought to harm family, tribe, community, or one’s own person they open themselves up to action, if not retribution. If magic is power then the use of power should be justified.

Magic and Ethics are Works in Progress

People have been writing on these topics for millenia. We are nowhere near settled on them. Part of the reason for it is that we change. Ethical systems change. They get challenged, and some stay while others fade. They are embedded in our religions, cultures, and politics. That is part of why I find them so fascinating and good to talk and write on. They are part of our lives, are bound up in them as surely as magic is in my understanding and living of Heathenry.

We have been debating and working out our methods of magic and what ethics are and how we apply them to one another throughout all of that time. I think that polytheism’s polycentricity, to borrow the phrase from Dr. Butler, means that we will never find one consensus on anything, much less magic. We are in a beautiful and dynamic period where we are all digging deeper into our paths, the way we do things, and why. I think that as we develop our various religious and magical communities it is good to weigh our ethics, and to being open to change when it is warranted, and standing our ground when that is as well.

Both magic and our ethics are works in progress. They are lived experiences, for all that we can intellectually debate the merits of this action, that spell, this curse, or that working. Given magic are routes to, forms of, and expressions of power we would be remiss not to think on it, but it cannot merely be a thing we think about. In the end what differentiates ethics from head games, idle theorizing, or mental masturbation is that sooner or later those things are lived. They have real, lasting effects on others and ourselves. So let us consider how we will bring in, give form, and use magic in all its forms. Let us consider how we will use power in whatever way it is expressed. Let us talk about them, debate them, consider them, yes, and then? Let us work with our magic and live our ethics well.

Patreon Topic 48: On Difference and Variety Among Spiritual Specialists

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Difference and variety among spiritual specialists. Not everyone is, can, or should be an expert in every area. Generalists exist certainly, but even generalists have weak and strong areas. Could you perhaps talk about various kinds of spiritual specialty, figuring out where you stand, etc?”

There is an amazing variety of spiritual specialists out there, and depending on your religion, communities, and culture(s), there are a lot of ways to figure out and occupy various nieches. I am going to contrast with some varities of ways people first find themselves becoming a spiritual specialist and ways that a given path might bring a person to that job, and then I will tackle ways we can look at how we can figure out where we stand.

Note: This categorizing does not speak to the credentials, ability, etc a given person may hold. A person formally recognized as a priest by a Heathen group may have poor skills in priestcraft just as a person who is entirely spirit-taught and initiated by the Ginnreginn they serve may excel. A person brought into a spiritual specialist role by contract may be uninterested in pursuing the work once a contract is up whereas someone who has come into the work through experimentation may increase their abilities throughout the course of their life. An additional complexity to all this is that a person may be introduced to spiritual specialist work in a combination of these ways. I may have missed a way of introduction here that is specific to a path. For this post we are talking very generally and out of my experience as a Heathen and prior to that as a Kemetic polytheist. If folks want me to dig into specifics I am willing to do that, but it will need to wait a month as this took me several days to write.

Introductions to Spiritual Specialist Work

Religion-Initiated Training/Initiation

This is a person who has been formally trained and/or initiated as a spiritual specialist by another human or human group. Even within a broad category such as priest, this can take on a lot of different meanings depending on what is meant by a give spiritual specialist area or discipline. For instance, seiðr.

What a seiðworker’s function in modern Heathenry is matters a great deal on the dynamics of a given Heathen group, the training they receive, and any initiation work they may undergo. Some folks begin calling themselves a seiðworker/seiðkona/seiðmaðr/seiðmann/etc immediately on interest in the vocation whereas others only do so after extensive training, recognition from a group and/or formal initiation by a group. Generally, a person within a group only calls themselves a spiritual specialist once they have gone through the training and initiations, if there are any, as laid down by a given group.

What differentiates this path greatly from one brought to a person by the Ginnreginn is that the person’s training and initiation(s) are first engaged/invited to by the person or their group. Any training and initiation are decided on by/with heavy input from Elders or otherwise qualified members of that group. This is not to say the Ginnreginn are not at the center of these spiritual specialists’ lives or have no say, just that the decision to bring a person into the work/teachings is mitigated by humans and not the Ginnreginn alone.

Holy Powers-Initiated Training/Instruction/Initiation

This is where the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir, the Ginnreginn or Mighty/Holy Powers, bring a person into training, instruction, and/or initiation. It is direct experience of these Beings that starts a person on the path to being a spiritual specialist, that informs their training, and/or serves to initiate them into the work rather than being mitigated by human beings, such as by initiating into a line of seiðworkers in a specific tribe. This would be things like Óðinn coming out of the relative blue in a vision and bringing you along the path you need to walk with Him to learn the Runes or Freyja grabbing you up in a freeform journey meditation to learn seiðr. It should be noted that you do not inherently have less freedom or ability to say no to such things. You still maintain your sovereignty, and any agreements you are asked to enter into should be carefully considered.

Experimentation

Fucking around and finding out is how some folks get brought into being a Pagan, let alone being a spiritual specialist. Maybe you saw a cool idea for a ritual in a book and tried it out to see if you could replicate the results. Perhaps you decided to stop into the local group’s dedicatory ritual to the An Morrighan and you didn’t step back when prompted. Whatever the case is, you tried something out and not only did it work, it now helps to inform your path -assuming it has not outright become it.

Contract

A formal agreement reached between at least two entities to achieve an end. In this case there is a formal agreement between the person being brought into spiritual specialist work and those introducing/training/initiating them in it. This could be a contract with a working group, a mentor, and/or the Ginnreginn that have contracted with them to that end. Perhaps there are certain things you need to do prior to restrictions in the agreement to be lifted, eg a training period of a year and a day or better has to be completed before you can call yourself the spiritual specialist’s term, eg seiðmaðr/seiðkona/etc. Perhaps you have a limited time of expectancy for performing the role of a spiritual specialist. One way that I have read this can occur in the ordinary existence of a group is that some Wiccan covens rotate the role of high priestess.

What Next?

All of these ways are merely what will get you in the proverbial door. Perhaps an experiment brought you to a realization that a given God was calling you to service. You wanted to honor that calling and found a group to help you in this. The group itself does not do training itself, and they are a group of peers that provides a support network. So what results is folks engaging in a lot of spiritual contact mutually support each other through their own journeys. Around Grandfather Fire’s Discord server works a lot like this for those inclined to spirit work and callings.

What is next really depends on what specific spiritual specialty you are being called to. In a general case there needs to be a grounding in the lore and religious community surrounding the spiritual work, and ongoing spiritual discipline that supports the accomplishment of the spiritual specialist work. So, for a modern Rýnstr (Runester aka Runeworker), this would first be grounded in the ongoing basic exoteric work of being a Heathen. This would include regular cleansing before ritual, making good prayers and offerings, and living life in a well-balanced way the same as any other Heathen. From there the training of a Rýnstr would include a study grounded in both the literature and archaeological resources on the Runes, and ongoing spiritual connecting and working with the Runes Themselves.

Sometimes figuring out what your strong suits are is to just try things out. Within my experience of Heathen spiritwork you will not know if you are good at something until you experiment with it. Even so, sometimes you have to try more than a few techniques before you find one you click with, and then take the ones that work for you and really work with them awhile before you can truly call yourself skilled at them. Alongside all of that if you are serving within a religion/religious tradition you have to undergo training in order to be considered competent within a religious tradition, and continue to provide service within that tradition. It is not enough for me to have done a good Rune reading once, as though a capstone is enough to continue to use the title of vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker), goði, Rýnstr, seiðmaðr, and so on. There is no resting on laurels to being a competent spiritual specialist. With all of that being said, let us dig into some general descriptions for polytheist spiritual specialists.

Kinds of Spiritual Specialists

Spiritworker

Someone who does work for the spirits.

Their work can range from communicating to divining, engaging in spirit travel to do work in one the Worlds, to maintaining a public shrine space so contact can be made between the spirits and people. Often a spiritworker serves as the connection point between spirits and people within their community. A spiritworker often serves as a kind of cross between the roles on this list, especially when other kinds of spiritual specialists are not available.

Priest

Someone who serves a God or group of Gods in the maintenance of Their cultus.

This notion of a priest is markedly different from what monotheists understand a priest to be, as a priest in modern Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc serve congregations and not only in the cultus of their God. By contrast, a polytheist priest’s main role is in the cultus they give to their God(s) first, and then, if this is part of their duties, to those who seek to connect with the God in the shrine/sacred space. Some priests may simply serve a God with no outward community involvement whatsoever, maintaining personal shrines, including daily prayers and offerings for the God.

Clergy

Someone who serves a polytheist community as a spiritual guide.

Clergy are often what folks think of when they think of ‘priestly’ duties, however, I find this is a completely separate set of skills. A skilled priest may be excellent at giving prayers and offerings to a God while being lousy at providing spiritual guidance or spiritual counseling. This is a clergyperson’s main focus. They seek to bridge the gaps between the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and their worshipers and help maintain good relationships. Where a priest serves a cultus role a clergy serves a communal one.

Diviner

Someone who serves a community by doing divination.

This person may perform only one kind of divination service, or may be pushed to learn a variety of divination styles. They serve a vital function in helping community members discern messages, taboos, initiation rituals, and various life events as they are called on. Where a spiritworker serves as a connection point, a priest serves the cultus of a God, Ancestor, or spirits, and a clergyperson serves a community in spiritual guidance, a diviner’s service is helping to establish and maintain communication. Divination is, in my experience at the time of this writing, one of the most common skills across polytheist communities for both specialists and non-specialists. I do not expect this trend to go away. Now that polytheist communities are getting sufficiently large and specialties are have been emerging, diviners are emerging as their own specialty.

Sacrificer

Someone who performs sacrifice to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

This person is trained in and performs sacrifice according to best practice and what is required of their particular religion. While most will see the word sacrifice and think blood sacrifice, and while this can certainly part of this specialty, it is not the only form this can take. A sacrificer may be someone who tends a garden full of herbs, flowers, and other plants whose main reason for being grown is that they will be made into offerings. A sacrificer takes the risk of a poor sacrifice on themselves and performs this service on behalf of a person, community, etc. They may do this to help ease an angry spirit, help heal a group of Ancestors, or to please a God at a seasonal rite. Because sacrifice is still looked down upon by the overculture and a good understanding of what sacrifice is and with regard to blood sacrifice, how to do it safely and well is not understood by most polytheists, it is one of the most taboo and misunderstood specialties here.

Operant (Witch/Sorcerer/Magician/etc.)

Someone who engages with magic and the spiritual fabric of reality.

Given the pervasiveness with which witches dominate the Pagan communities it might seem to be odd that this is noted as a spiritual specialty within polytheism. A common denominator I find with operants, whether the word is witch, sorcerer, magician, is that this person engages with magic in some way and the underlying nature of reality through it. This is, historically and increasingly in modern polytheism, not something commonly done. Most polytheists engage in exoteric practice and either do very little in the way of magic, or focus on specific practices such as protection.

In Heathenry there are a large number of things to call operants, among them seiðworkers. Some folks would call Rýnstrar (Runeworkers) operants, and others would call them spiritworkers. I tend towards the latter, but they still fit the bill here. While not every operant does their specialty for trade, some do, and this is a practice well-founded in history. Some operants work with spirits in various ways whereas others work on their own, though I find this latter operant fairly rare in polytheist circles.

Monastic

Someone whose primary vocation in life is oriented around and dedicated to a disciplined devotional service to a God, Ancestor, spirit, or group of these.

Monastics may come from any walk of life. Their discipline may be oriented around extreme aesceticism, simple-living as a hermit, or living alongside others in whatever community they find themselves in for whom their monasticism is the focus of their life. They may have taken specific vows with a fellowship, such as The Maetreum of Cybele or the Gnostic Celtic Church’s Hermitage of the Heart, among other groups, or are independent. Whatever else, their day begins and ends with devotion to the Being(s) they have dedicated their time, life, and/or work to.

Storyteller

Someone who tells the stories of the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and/or communities.

Storytellers are those who keep and tell stories, particularly sacred and important stories. Storytellers do more than merely memorize stories, though this certainly is part of it. They also relate the stories they hold, whether through written prose or poetry, through oration, song, dance, gesture, play, or crafts. Storytelling is literally an embodied story whether that comes through a tapestry, song, recitation, or a three-act play. Some storytellers may be given new myths, new legends, new stories to share, whereas some storytellers’ duty is only to pass on what they were given.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

Have these descriptions spoken to you? Stirred something within you? If so, explore that. What feelings does it bring up? What images or sounds? What stereotypes do you have about the specialist type you are exploring? What do you want to do? How? Once you have explored these things, it is time to think about some of the general, baelines requirements of being a spiritual specialist.

Requirements

Rootedness

In order to be a spiritual specialist you first have to be spiritual. This notion that you can just take on a role like seiðworker without any groundwork having been done, no prior spiritual experience or outlook, is not only irresponsible, it is flat dangerous to anyone you might serve in that capacity. In order to be a polytheist spiritual specialist you need to have a clear, grounded rootedness in a polytheist religion. This includes a belief in the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as real Beings unto Themselves, and a lived relationship with Them. The roots of rootedness are in reciprocity, respect, and ritual.

Ideally you will have several years in the religion prior to being called or pursuing to some kind of role. However, my own experience with the Gods is that sometimes they take you up for work fairly quick. Rootedness, however much time you have in the religion, serves to ground you, to make sure you know what you are doing, that you know why you are doing it, and what it means. Rootedness also gives you community, in whatever capacity you are able to be part of one, and hopefully a community of Elders, peers, and others who you can call on when you need help, advice, or comradery.

Learning and Work

This is an ongoing process. Learning is not just studying books or oriented around academic learning. It may include that, but if all you are doing is looking at academic texts you are likely not doing the work of your spiritual specialty. Study should inform what you are doing, and it should feed into the work that you learn through. The other side is doing the work of being a spiritual specialist. You have to learn the requirements of the spiritual specialist role you are looking at, to know if you can effectively fulfill that role, and if you decide to take it on, to do the requisite learning so you fulfill it well. Any of the spiritual specialies listed above will require you to do ongoing work. This study and work should unfold hand-in-hand so that you learn what you are good at and reinforce that, and show where you need to improve and to work on that.

Discernment

One of the key skills needed to do any spiritual specialist work effectively. Working off of the previous requirements, discernment needs rootedness to be able to discern chaff from wheat, and learning so the discernment one has is informed instead of prejudicial, ignorant, or incorrectly applied. Discernment is informed by both study and by experience, both your own and that of others. This is part of why Elders and peers are so valuable -you do not need all the answers nor the experiences.

There are much more specific requirements as we dig into polytheist religions, specific paths of learning and work within them, and the direction a given spiritual specialist may take. This is beyond the very general scope of this post.

I expect that as time goes on the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits will call folks to different ways and needs within the communities will cause change to how spiritual specialists work within a given religion or religious tradition. As time goes on perhaps each will have their own dedicated spiritual specialists so that a Heathen looking to see if their plan to engage with a Heathen sacrificer is okayed through divination with a Heathen diviner. Perhaps not, and we will have a similar pattern to what we do today, with spiritual specialists fulfilling a lot of roles at once within their own particular communities and between them as well. It is quite possible we will have a blend of these depending on location, the polytheist religion in question, the spiritual specialist type, and trends within the overculture and our specific ones.

Discussion and/or Divination

Figuring out where you stand include both discussion and divination. Depending on how you started this journey it might include more of one or the other as the deciding factor for entering into the work of becoming a spiritual specialist.

As I wrote above, you always retain your sovereignty, and so, your ability to say no to entering into the work. You also retain your sovereignty and ability to say no to the work once you are involved in it. Once begun you may have consequences for walking away from it depending on any oaths you take, where you are in a community with that choice, and the relationships you have made in that journey.

Questions

Whether in discussion with an Elder, mentor, or peer, or sitting down to divination, I find these questions to be some of the most useful to figuring out where you stand.

Baselines

What are the boundaries of this work? What am I willing to do? What am I not willing to do?

Is this a spiritual specialty, topic, and/or skill I need to know? If so, how much knowledge and experience do I need to have to fulfill my obligations as a spiritual specialist with this specialty, topic, and/or skill?

Am I suited to this spiritual specialty by temperament, training, and/or calling?

Am I willing to commit to this work fully? What obligations, taboos, training, initiation, and other requirements will this spiritual specialty require of me?

Does this spiritual specialist work dovetail with my current spiritual work, discipline, etc, or will I need to modify my spiritual work in order to do this? How?

If I take this work up what down time, if any, do I have? How does my relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits change through it? How does my relationship with my communities change through it?

What discipline(s) will I need to maintain in order to train and become this spiritual specialist?

Skill Level

Do I currently possess the skills, training, and/or abilities required to carry out this spiritual specialty? If so, where do I need to improve? If not, what do I need to work on?

With regard to a given skill within a spiritual specialty: What is the skill? What does it do? What is its function within the spiritual specialty?

Do I have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to learn this spiritual specialty well? Do those teaching me have the ability, clearance, temperament, and time to teach me well?

Training

What are the requirements of training in this spiritual specialty?

What are the necessities to train to become this or that spiritual specialist?

What are subjects that are not core to this spiritual specialist but still useful to it?

What are subjects to avoid until the initial training/initiation period is over?

How do I train? Is there academic work needing to be done? Experiential? Both?

Who do I train with? Is the training self-directed or is there a regimen or outline to follow?

Is there an expectation of hours of service, experience, etc before I am qualified to move into a new phase of training, work, etc

Initiation

Is initiation necessary for this spiritual specialty?

If I am to undertake an initiation what are the boundaries to it so that it is as safe as possible?

Is an initiation needed to perform certain duties within this spiritual specialty?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc before initiation?

What are my obligations, role, relationships, etc after initiation?

Everyday Life

A key aspect of figuring out where you are as a polytheist is orienting your everyday life around your spiritual outlook. This is particularly true if you are going to be a spiritual specialist. An example of this would be a monastic schedule during which periods of contemplation, prayer, and devotion are scheduled alongside any other activities the monastic has. They are far from the only people who could benefit from such a thing, and even so, not all polytheist monastics have such a schedule if they have a formal one at all.

Whatever you do, there should be time in the day for at least 5-15 minutes of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, prayer, offerings, and connection with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. Keep in mind I am not saying this time even needs to be all at once. My family and I make prayers throughout the day -when we first see Sunna, each meal, when we see Máni (if He can be seen) and before sleep. We make offerings as often as we are able. The strictness or laxity of your schedule will depend on your needs, the requirements of your religion, and, if you are a spiritual specialist, the requirements that brings.

Beyond spiritual self-care and cultus, there is also a need to orient as much of your life to be in concert with your worldview as possible. In my own life this has meant that I have foods that are taboo, so I have to work to avoid them. It also means that I avoid certain actions, spend my money on companies and causes that align with my interests as a polytheist and animist, and literally schedule my life around my religious obligations. Not only do I set aside hours of my life for things like divination, my family respects this time because it is service to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and to those who come to me for that service.

Going Forward

There are as many ways to be a spiritual specialist as there are people, and despite the length of this post, I am only touching on the outline of the subject. A polytheist understanding of things like priests, monastics, spiritworkers, and so on is fundamentally different from that of monotheists. The requirements of different polytheist religions’ spiritual specialists will differ from one another as well. A Heathen priest will differ from those of a Kemetic priest, and even within a given polytheist religion individual requirements of spiritual specialists will differ from one another. A priest of Anpu will likely not have the same role as a priest of Aset even if many of the requirements to be a priest, the taboos held, the conduct during ceremony, the offerings made, and so on, are the same.

Whatever brings you to the work of being a spiritual specialist, whatever way you engage in it, whatever work you need to do is just that: yours. No one else can do it, no one else can do your work for you. So, if yours is to be a spiritual specialist, ves Þu heil to you, and may your luck be strong.

Patreon Topic 45: On Runes, Color, and Activation

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From Emily comes this topic:

“I’m curious why you associate runes as being activated in red. Is there historical precedent? Also, have you found any use for using runes in other colors?”

I want to first point out the Hávamál stanza 143:

143.
Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,
dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,
dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,
dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?

translated by Olive Bray and edited by D. L. Ashliman
http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/havamal.html#runes

The way that I understand ‘paint’, ‘tint’, ‘stain’, or ‘colour’ as it is referred to in other sources, eg this translation by Henry Adam Bellows here, and Carolyne Larrington’s translation reprinted here, stanza 145 in this version, is that it is referring to this act with blood. The reference to ‘offer’, or ‘sacrifice’ bears this out in my mind, as does this passage in my understanding of the Runes as vaettir. This is passage is not referring to Gods, Ancestors, or anything other than the Runes here, so anyone applying the passage directly after this to ‘not offering too much’ to Them is doing themselves and the relationships They carry a disservice.

Is there a historical precedent for Runes being activated by the color red? Not that I have found. Runes were etched into bractiates, wood, and stones, and so far as I have read specific pigments were not associated with them. Serje Spurkland in his excellent book Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions, to whit I remember, does not mention anything like that.

It is really important to remember that my work with the Runes, despite really liking and digging into what academic work I can get my hands on and afford, is much more based in spiritwork with Them. It is modern so far as I know. That does not make it less valid, it just bears putting out there.

So what is ‘activating’ a Rune?

It is empowering a surface, item, person, place, thing etc that a Rune is put/carved/painted onto to carry that vaettir and/or Their megin or might. This can take a number of forms. You might paint a Rune tile with blood and so, both feed the Rune and give the Rune the form on a surface in blood. You may carve or scratch Runes into a piece of wood, and then fill the carved wooden Rune space with ochre or acrylic red paint. You might take some of your spit or sweat and mark the inside of a coat with a Rune. You might sing the name of the Rune or write and perform a galdralag to bring the Rune’s power onto a carved candle. Perhaps instead of carving you trace the image of a Rune over yourself or another, and galdr the Rune. Perhaps you use the carrier of your önd, breath, to sing a Rune over/into something/someone. However you make the physical body or whatever carries the Rune, the Rune is activated when the Runevaettr enters the Rune or puts Their megin into Their representation.

I generally look at red as an activating color because it is the color of blood. That’s the long and short of it. I had the option of filling the Rune tattoos on my arms with red and chose not to because, at least to how I relate to Them, I did not want Them to be ‘on’ and working all the time. Not everyone is going to have this association, and that is fine.

When it comes to working with colors and Runework, I think really the sky is the limit. Given we are completely off the historical map and talking spiritwork here, you could look at how you relate to the main colors you can see. Then, get a color wheel, and start building the associations you have with the Runes. Does this color outline put you more in mind of, say, the Icelandic or Anglo-Saxon Rune poem? Does this color with a black outline speak more to you with the Rune’s ability to heal or harm? Do you like clean lines? How about spelling words or writing sentences with Them? If you make a Sowilo with a rainbow gradient in it, does that speak differently to you from a solid yellow or red?

What about bindrunes? If you combined an icy blue Isa with a deep green Jera what does that say to you? How about contrasting with bindrunes that have obvious opposites in them? What about working with complementary colors that speak ‘healing’ or ‘grounding’ to you?

Generally, I do not work with many colors and the Runes outside of black and red. I’m not a great painter by any stretch, and most of the mediums I work in, namely wood, leather, and woodburning in both of those, I tend to work with outlines or black fill more than painting.

What works with me matters far less than what works with you. After all, I have my own relationship with the Runes, my own color associations, and my own understanding with ‘what works’ when it comes to spiritwork, Runework, and being a Rýnstr. So will you. So, enjoy, experiment, and explore.

Patreon Topic 35: On Paganism in the Future

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Where do you want to see paganism go in the next 5 years, 10 years, etc?”

This is a hell of a question given Paganism is such a big umbrella. I find thought questions like these fun. I am sure each Pagan branch will go its own way depending on theology (or lack thereof), so I will try to give my answers without writing a novel.

The Next 5 Years

In the next 5 years I would like to see worship of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits get somewhat equal parity with folks in hearth cultus as well as in the festival circuits that remain. I am starting to see trends in Paganism go this way to start with, which is a good thing. Why? Some folks balance to one group of Beings, and some do not which in and of itself is a good thing. We cannot be all things to all Beings. However, I think that generally most Pagans really need a balance, as there tends to be an emphasis on building good relationships with Gods to the exclusion of Ancestors and spirits. While it is good folks are building relationships with Gods, overlooking Ancestors and spirits neglects our duties to and relationships with those who came before us, and the spirits with which we live. In rebalancing this, trends within Paganism can be more oriented around where we live and how we live there.

This leads into my next point where I would like to see Paganism go in the next 5 years: regional cultus and ecological integration. Pagan religions, despite often being called earth-centered religions, tend to not have a lot of connection with their local environments. Some folks are still celebrating harvest festivals on arbitrary dates based on the Gregorian calendar. At least in the Heathen circles and some other polytheist religion circles I am in this is beginning to change as we apply reconstruction to our mindset on how we develop our worldview now, not just the accoutrement or the broader strokes of our religions.

We can see more regional variations of practice that deepen meaning of our practice of and engagement with religion for the average Pagan. That is not to say that, for instance, Pagans need to give up the Wiccan Sabbats if that is what works for them. What this means is that we orient our understanding of the Sabbats more around our lived world. Imbolc is one of the holidays that is least celebrated in my experience, and for good reason: few of us raise sheep, and we are not yet out of winter, given it is February 1st. So, to adapt that to Michigan we might emphasize the life-giving fire, cleansing, cleaning, and the like.

For Mímisbrunnr Kindred we celebrate Dísirblót around the last Friday in February. This more or less comports to the historical celebration’s time. It is a time of offering to the powerful female Ancestors, who protect, organize, and care for our Ancestral lines. Given the cold of the month this celebration allows us time to think on the struggles our Ancestors went through, the warmth and blessing of home and hearth, the unsung workers who made everything from clothes to blankets that allowed them and their families to survive, and those who toiled throughout the year so the family made it through the winter.

By adapting our practices to where we live and living in better concert with our environment, by comporting our relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this way, we bring even more of our religion into our everyday life. By integrating Them into our lived experiences we invite Them to share our lives. While I am seeing Pagan communities move towards this, I would really like to see them do so in the next 5 years.

The Next 10 Years

I would like to see Pagans building lasting intergenerational institutions. We have had a few successes in this, given that the ATC (Aquarian Tabernacle Church), ADF (Ar Draoight Fein, A Druid Fellowship), OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids), The Troth, and others have handed over responsibility to new generations of administrators. However, few of these groups, let alone Pagan groups in general ( though ATC is foremost in my mind for one that does) have permanent installations. Given I am part of an effort in Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary to create a lasting intergenerational Pagan space I would like many more of these efforts to spring up all over the world.

This does not mean that I only want to see permanent temples, hofs, and sanctuaries. I want institutions of all sizes. I would like to see more roadside shrines, and the kind of simple but beautiful shrine to Mercury that was erected in the NYC subway. I would like to see more public celebrations of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir with art such as murals, spraypaintings, and Godpoles. We have so much to offer our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities if we just started to do what is within us to do, no matter how it is starting off.

Taking cues from the previous section, I would like to see Pagan cultures really flourish in the places where they are. I am beginning to see this with folks taking the time to develop relationship and worship their local rivers, groves, and landvaettir. It is also being felt by how people are constructing their holidays around the cycles where they live. I would also like us to take more cues from the home cultures we take inspiration from, such as what Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen is doing with his Nordic Animist project. Together, these two dovetail into developing a whole culture, one that integrates where we live and how we live into our worldview so there is nothing left out.

It is within our capacity and, I believe, our duty as Pagans, to live well upon and with the Earth and all we share this world with. We must put our beliefs into action where we live and how we live. Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm is one part of what could be an entire web of community works that integrates learning, DIY skills, permaculture, and Paganism. I would like to see Pagans make serious strides towards supporting local farmers, eg a Pagan community buys a CSA membership, a pig, a cow, etc and shares it with its community members. Growing our own heirloom varietals, seed saving, or at the least supporting the members of our communities who do are ways we can start now and build up for the future. If we start doing this now, we could develop our own entire strains of locally-harvested and locally-produced food to at least supplement our communities’ intakes.

Something my friend Nick turned me on to was the idea of integrating our ecological awareness with our religious practice. His example was shrines to the Sun and Sun Gods at our solar panels. Let us take this out further: shrines to windvaettir and wind Gods at wind turbines, shrines to our landvaettir and various Gods of the Earth in our gardens and homes. The possibilities here, and the way these are integrated into a more wholistic model of living are endless.

I would like to see more systems of mutual aid within and between Pagan communities. We have seen the start of it, with Pagans in Need having begun its mission years ago and now expanded to 3 sites in Michigan. We can do so much more, and it starts with the support folks like PIN need, whose Patreon is here. There are likely other groups putting together mutual aid work projects, but this is the one I know from my backyard. With 10 years of good community investment PIN and its mission can grow. So can any similar community mutual aid we choose to invest our time, money, labor, and energy in.

It is not enough to just take care of each other in life. I want to see the good I have seen in the Death Doula community become more widespread. I want us to be able to choose how we die and when, and for that itself to be an honored and respected process. I want folks to have access to spiritual specialists to aid in the process of decline and dying. I want places for our Dead to rest, whether these are cemeteries, mausoleums, groves, grave mounds, etc, and people to tend them. These can be potent gathering places in addition to our other temples, shrines, hofs, and so on.

The Roads Ahead

I want us to honor the past, live in the present, and work to build a future that is centered in our values, our philosophies, our ideals, and our callings. I want to see Pagan communities ground ourselves in traditions that grow and adapt with change, retaining their solid foundations so that we build our communities well. I want to see Pagan communities that give rise to generations living more integrated, healthy, and whole lives that build upon our understanding of how we are to live well on and with the Earth, and with each other.

In the end what I would really like to see from the Pagan communities in the next 5-10 years is to grow in culture. I want to see Pagan communities supporting converts and parents that raise their kids in their religions, for us to support both newer and older folk alike, and for lasting institutions, grounded in our senses of duty and responsibility, to grow well. I want to see our Pagan communities taking care of each other, doing well by each other, and providing mutual aid to each other. I want to see us live well with our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and each other.

Patreon Topic 34: On Rune Signs and Confirmations

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From Leslie comes this topic:”Do runes or runvaettir ever appear as signs or confirmations of a Working, well, working? Outside of divination, if they do, how might they do so?”

Oh yes, They can. I have had branches fall down in front of me, unmistakably forming a Rune after asking for a sign. Unless it is something that blatant I will ask that a Rune show up as an answer three times before I will accept it. Sometimes the way the Runes have made Themselves known to me is a little subtle, such as graffiti on a wall or municipal signs.

Sometimes I only see such things after the fact, eg the graffiti really sticks with me and I can’t figure out why until I sit with it. I had this once where Gebo showed up on a wall three times, and I just took it to mean Xs instead, maybe a tag or something. It hit me a little while later that the meaning of Gebo three times was a sign and fit with the question on my mind at the time. Sometimes you recognize it in the moment as something seemingly mundane that just…leaps out at you.

Can They make Themselves known in other ways? Sure. Understanding that Runes are vaettir, spirits, They can communicate with us other than through visual mediums, such as by touch. If you know the literal feeling of how a Rune feels when it has been cut into an object, then that can be a way They use to communicate, such as by running a hand or finger gently along a concrete wall or a wooden table. Since They are vaettir and can work with any of our spiritual senses that happen to be ‘on’ at a given moment, They can work through sound, even smell and/or taste if you have experienced Them in this way. There was a couple of books I encountered a while back where you would literally bake cookies and take the magic of the Runes into you through them, so if you did something like this with a recipe specific to each Rune even the taste of a cookie could kick-start a conversation.

Depending on the Rune(s) at hand, how They come to you, and whether or not you asked a question beforehand can have an impact on your answer. For instance, if I ask for a sign and get it by sight, smell, and feel I might consider that a confirmed sign, and then need to interpet what the medium of communication is saying to me, and what the Rune Itself means. For instance, if I see Hagalaz, smell a smell that I interpret as corresponding to Hagalz, and feel the etching of Hagalaz in a stone I felt called to pick up, then I need to interpret the meaning of Hagalaz from there. This is where having a cache of understanding for the Runes is really helpful. That cache ideally includes knowing the Rune poems well enough to where you can reference them for guidance, your experiences working with the Runes, and correspondences you have built up otherwise with the Runevaettir.

Let’s apply this to my example of Hagalaz showing up in sight, smell, and feel. When Hagalaz shows up in a reading I tend to interpret that much in the same way as a Tower card: things are going to go to shit. Unlike the Tower card where folks reading them might see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with Hagalaz that light may well be a damned train. It is one of the roughest Runes to get in a reading, and only occasionally do I get the understanding from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem of it being the ice that melts rather than the Icelandic Rune Poem where it is ‘cold grain, sleet, and sickness of serpents’. This translation here by Bruce Dickens on Wikipedia is a good, accessible one. Both Hægl and Hagall are hail, and hail can be incredibly destructive to crops and people. So, when this pops up in a reading whoever gets this Rune is generally not going to get away unscathed.

So how do I interpret this in context of “is a Working, well, working?” If Hagalaz shows up it is a hard “hell no, and this might turn quite ugly”. At the very least if I am asking an Up/Down or Yes/No binary answer it is in the hard “Down” and/or “No” category. Context is key, though. If the working was, say, to cut someone out of my life or to bring something to an end, then it may be effective, if painful.

The context I receive Hagalaz be sight, smell, and feel matters as well. If I receive Hagalaz by sight, say, on a building, then it may be a commentary on how the working was built up, especially if it is at the foundation or ground level. If I receive Hagalaz by smell, say a sharp, clean, and/or piercing smell like cleaner, new-fallen snow, or the like, it may be a comment on something I missed during the working or something that needs to be done so the working can be completed. If I receive the feel of Hagalaz on a stone I have picked up and it is jagged then it may be the working will be ragged, uneven, or is being disrupted by the process itself having been so. This is highly subjective, personal, and completely dependent on your relationship with the Runevaettir, your correspondences, your experiences, and your understanding of Them and yourself at minimum.

While the Rune poems and various books can point you in the right direction to interpret signs and omens from Them, in the end you are doing the interpreting. If I am not getting a clear enough signal I will usually take things to divination. There is nothing wrong with being sure you are understanding the message clearly. There are times you may not need that, and you will understand the meaning of the message crystal clear the first time you get it. In the end, it is up to your relationship with the Runevaettir, and your intuition and understanding.